Cindi Olsen was a medical cannabis patient when that was the only way to legally access the drug in Canada.
Nearly nine months after marijuana became legal for all Canadians, the breast cancer survivor is starting to feel like medical users have been left behind.
“It feels like we’ve been elbowed out,” she admitted.
The Cambridge, Ont., woman was diagnosed with chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, a long-term side effect from cancer treatment.
“I was left with this really painful condition and I’m in a situation now where I’m totally disabled .... I have really severe limitations,” Olsen explained. “And because it’s nerve pain, it’s really difficult to manage.”
She was given anti-seizure medications, anti-depressants and opioids to cope, but she soon realized none of that was working for her.
“With the opioids, I’m frequently sick to my stomach,” she said, revealing that she’d throw up four or five times a day and was unable to get off her couch.
Left with few other choices, Olsen decided to give medicinal cannabis a try.
“It was really a game-changer,” she explained. “I’m on high CBD oil and I don’t have any side effects.”
Marijuana improved her quality of life, but less than a year after it became legal for all Canadians, Olsen told HuffPost Canada she’s most concerned by the lack of supply for her medical needs.
The way she sees it, marijuana is her medicine, and she needs it to survive.
“If a doctor says you need that medicine, then you need to get that medicine.”
“The medical use of cannabis pre-dates legalization, and these people shouldn’t be ignored.”
Earlier this month, a survey commissioned by Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM), the Arthritis Society and the Canadian Pharmacists Association found one in four medical cannabis users said it was harder to access the drug since legalization.
“In order to have an effective medical system for the hundreds and thousands of Canadians using cannabis for medical purposes, it needs to be more accessible,” CFAMM vice-president Max Monahan-Ellison said in a statement.
Joanne Di Nardo, director of public policy and government affairs at the Arthritis Society, told HuffPost she’s calling for the federal government to ensure medical users are able to buy cannabis at a fair price and get the educational information that they need.
“The medical use of cannabis pre-dates legalization, and these people shouldn’t be ignored,” Di Nardo said.
The survey also found 38 per cent of medical users rely heavily on cannabis to treat pain, insomnia, anxiety, stress and arthritis. Ensuring marijuana is available for these people ensures they don’t turn to opioids, a family of drugs linked to more than 10,300 deaths in Canada from January 2016 to September 2018.
“Evidence informs that there is a way to help these people without excess opioid prescribing,” she said. “This is where we need to make sure these people can access ― easily access ― their medical cannabis.”
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The best way to do that is to make sure medical cannabis is readily available tax-free at pharmacies, Di Nardo told HuffPost.
With taxes and delivery, Olsen said she’s paying more than $100 for a bottle of cannabidiol (CBD) oil at the Ontario Cannabis Store. But for her, the biggest issue at the moment is supply.
“I think people are figuring it out,” she said of pot use for pain relief. “Prices have gone up and there’s less to go around.”
Unlike prescription medications, medical cannabis is subject to taxes, as ruled by a court in 2014. Advocates are calling for that to change, arguing medicine is medicine.
The survey also found 60 per cent of medical users reported taking marijuana with other medications, and more than three-quarters don’t see any harm in that.
“A health professional guiding that decision is really important,” Di Nardo said.
“There are times when I go to order the medication and it’s not in stock. I never had that problem before.”
All things considered, Olsen said she expected bumps along the way as the country adopts legalization, but she feels more can be done to help medical users.
“There are times when I go to order the medication and it’s not in stock. I never had that problem before. I think producers are maybe having a harder time keeping up with the demand. If it’s not there, obviously I have to wait.”
She wants to see a special line for medical cannabis users to ensure they get access, comparing her vision to skipping the line at the airport when travelling business class.
And she isn’t buying a federal minister’s claim that there’s enough cannabis in Canada for those who want it.
“The data is clear: there remains enough supply to meet and exceed combined retail sales,” Bill Blair told CBC News last week.
“Who are they talking to?” Olsen asked. “Because it’s not medical users.”