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How to Talk to Your Doctor About Medical Cannabis

Honest conversations between doctors and patients are crucial in overcoming the barriers to real and effective healthcare solutions. It's time to replace the fear, stigma and misinformation too often associated with medical cannabis with science, reason and compassion.
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While as many as 92 per cent of Canadians hold their physicians in high esteem, it's no secret that many patients struggle to engage them in meaningful conversations. One study suggests that while patients want to be part of the decision-making process with their doctor when it comes to treatment options, there are several obstacles in the way, including the feeling that they need to defer to their doctor and not wanting to be labelled difficult. These factors inhibit those discussions, particularly when it comes to discussing cannabis.

Recently, the Canadian government introduced new regulations related to how Canadians can obtain cannabis (commonly known as marijuana) for medical purposes. These new rules, called the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations or MMPR, mean physicians and nurse practitioners are the sole gatekeepers to medical cannabis in this country.

So how do patients begin a conversation about medical cannabis with their physician in a way that sets the stage for an open, meaningful exchange? And, perhaps more importantly, how can a patient who is facing unresolved pain or distress that has not been helped by conventional medication ensure that the conversation addresses both their preferences and needs?

I'm a long-standing patient advocate and Vice-President of Patient Services for Tilray, a federally-authorized medical cannabis producer located in Nanaimo, B.C. But my personal experience with medical cannabis started in 1995 after I was diagnosed with hepatitis C that I'd contracted through a blood transfusion at the age of 12. Over the years, I've used my own experiences navigating the Canadian medical cannabis system to assist others in doing the same.

Unfortunately, medical cannabis is still a relatively misunderstood, though promising, therapy which comes with its own set of myths, misconception and stigma. Information is key to overcoming these knowledge gaps and the reason that Tilray has taken the lead in creating online CME programs to help inform physicians, and educational resources to assist patients wanting to know more about medical cannabis and how to navigate Health Canada's MMPR. The body of evidence supporting the use of medical cannabis is growing rapidly and patients shouldn't be afraid to ask questions and share how they feel -- and any research they find -- with their doctors.

In fact, a recent national poll of Canadians conducted for Tilray by Leger found that 86 per cent of Canadians support regulated access to medical cannabis with physician support and that 76 per cent of Canadians believe that health insurance companies should cover the costs of medical cannabis. Seventy per cent of the survey respondents also said they thought medical cannabis could be a safer alternative to opioid drugs, which are highly addictive and have a high potential for abuse.

With all that in mind, here are some tips that might help you and your physician when considering medical cannabis as a therapeutic option:

1. Be resourceful and share your research. Have you discovered clinical studies online or come across other research to support your argument for wanting to try medical cannabis? Being proactive in looking for information demonstrates your commitment to having a productive and informed discussion as well as taking control over your own health.

Ultimately, physicians make decisions based on evidence and common sense, so be prepared to help them understand what you have learned and how you feel. If you're looking for published scientific studies and other information on cannabis/cannabinoids, the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids, the International Association of Cannabis Medicines, and the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council are good places to start.

2. Be honest; share your experience. Be prepared to tell your doctor how you feel and the effects of the medications you have tried. Let him/her know what's worked and what's not and why you think medical cannabis might be a possible solution. If you've tried cannabis and found it effective in alleviating your symptoms, let them know. If accessing a safe, standardized, legal supply of medical cannabis is important to you, and you are concerned about the potential risks of illegal access or poor quality product, ask for their support to join the MMPR.

3. Be patient; share the journey. MMPR is still a new system. Physicians and patients are exploring what the new rules mean for the treatment of various conditions. Be patient if you or your physician still have questions and be prepared to continue the conversation. Together, you are more likely to find the best solution for you.

4. Be resolved; share your thoughts. Healthcare choices reflect a number of considerations, but ultimately it's every patient's right to decide what treatment options are best for them. Do your best to share your thoughts with your doctor. If he/she still can't help you, Tilray and other licensed producers may be able to help you find a physician who has experience in prescribing cannabis as a treatment option.

Canada's federal medical cannabis program exists to better meet the needs of critically and chronically ill patients who rely on cannabis as a medical therapy for relief from a variety of conditions. With a new federally-regulated program in place, there is an immediate need to promote greater education so that physicians can gain knowledge and clinical experience with medical cannabis in their practice and patients can make an informed choice about the therapeutic options that are best for them.

Honest conversations between doctors and patients are crucial in overcoming the barriers to real and effective healthcare solutions. It's time to replace the fear, stigma and misinformation too often associated with medical cannabis with science, reason and compassion.


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