Vice President of Clinical Affairs, TerrAscend
President & CEO, Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana
On Oct. 17th of this year, recreational cannabis will be legalized in Canada. Most of the nation is in favour of legalization, but there are still a lot of questions about how this affects the medical market.
Here are six differences between recreational and medical cannabis that Canadians should know before it becomes legal.
1. Medical treatments should reflect a patient’s unique needs
“Cannabis is a highly personalized medicine,” says James O’Hara, President and CEO of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana. “The effects can vary from person to person because each and every patient is different. They have different needs and different reactions.”
2. Cannabis has potential side effects just like any other medication
“Health care professionals will know about contraindications with other medications patients are on, or other conditions they may have,” says O’Hara. “Health care practitioners really need to analyze the individual needs of each patient — which is something you won’t get outside of the medical environment.”
3. Cannabis options can be overwhelming
That fact can be almost entirely mitigated by sound education. “The majority of patients we’re seeing now are new to cannabis,” says O’Hara. “Without proper coaching and education, it’s very common for them to take doses that are way too high and thus have an overly intense experience that results in them giving up on the treatment.”
Professional cannabis educators are well-versed in the various options and can help empower those considering cannabis to choose the strains and dosages that make the most sense for them.
4. The recreational market may not have the resources to provide guidance
“The recreational market will likely not have the expertise to educate and coach patients on medical cannabis treatments specific to a patient’s condition and needs,” says Sabrina Ramkellawan, Vice President of Clinical Affairs at TerrAscend. It oversees Solace Health Network of health care providers and educators who deliver personalized care to help patients successfully integrate cannabis into their lifestyles.
“If you go through the medical system, there’s guidance available in terms of strain selection and dosing. In addition, educators are knowledgeable about products and programs such as compassionate pricing, as many patients have financial restraints. Finding the optimal medical cannabis treatment is a process that takes time and generally includes follow-up visits.”
5. The cost of recreational cannabis will never be reimbursed
Medical cannabis can be quite expensive, and according to Ramkellawan, the biggest thing for patients is paying out of pocket. “I believe that in time, more insurance companies will start to cover the cost of medical cannabis, especially as many patients decrease the usage of the other drugs that they’re taking,”
For insurance companies that don’t provide blanket coverage, cannabis can be pursued on a case-by-case basis. Solace Health Network is currently hiring reimbursement specialists to assist patients with securing coverage for medical cannabis from their insurance providers.
6. The goals of medical and recreational cannabis use are different
For the latter, getting high is the point of consumption. While medical users want that side effect minimized. “A lot of people think that cannabis therapy always means they’re going to get high, but that’s just not the case,” says Ramkellawan. “We titrate people very slowly and find a good medium where they’re functional and their symptoms are also controlled.”
It is worth understanding that recreational and medical cannabis are two very different worlds. The imminent legalization of recreational cannabis has almost no bearing on the importance of talking to your health care provider about medical cannabis.
Is cannabis right for you?
Remember, no matter how much you know about cannabis, or how convenient it is to purchase and consume on your own, you should always seek out resources to help you find a medical cannabis solution that will fulfill your specific needs.
If cannabis can be used for your condition, you should treat it like medicine and seek out an appropriate educator. The health care team at Solace Health Network can help you learn how to access a variety of safe and convenient options for medicinal cannabis use.