2 min

Access to medical marijuana a right for PWAs

Report calls for overhaul in regulations

INEFFECTIVE DRUGS VERSUS ILLEGAL MEDICINE. Government-grown marijuana only provides one strain of cannabis, which doesn't work for all PWAs.

A new report by the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) is calling attention to barriers hindering people living with HIV/AIDS from getting access to marijuana for medicinal use.

Released Jun 14, the report is entitled Cannabis As Therapy For People Living With HIV/AIDS: Our Right, Our Choice. The 18-month project report outlines political barriers around the medical use of marijuana, including a lack of awareness of the existing program allowing access to medical marijuana, mistrust of the government and the medical establishment’s unwillingness to support the health benefits of marijuana for people living with HIV/AIDS (PWAs).

Brent Lewandoski, a member of the national steering committee for the project and one of the four panelists at the press conference launching the report, says people have the right to choose the therapy best suited for them.

“It’s very important that people be aware that people who use medicinal cannabis are there to improve their quality of life and to help them become better and productive people in society,” says Lewandoski.

The report also proposes allowing authorized marijuana users to expand their options when choosing the type of marijuana they want to be treated with.

“Denying a seriously ill person access to healthcare services is not only unethical,” reads the report, “it also violates the very essence of our universal healthcare system.”

Today, PWAs in need of weed can legally get it only from limited sources: either buying cannabis grown by the government, buying seeds from the government and growing the plant on their own or designating a person who can grow plants only for them.

According to the report, only 1.7 percent of authorized users choose the government’s product because it only provides one strain of cannabis, one that is considered to be less effective than many available elsewhere. For its part, the government has expressed an intention to phase out the licences it grants to producers — putting users in a position where they may have to break the law for the sake of their health.

The report notes 58,000 Canadians live with HIV/AIDS and that between 14 percent and 37 percent use marijuana to help alleviate symptoms of appetite loss, wasting, nausea, vomiting, pain, anxiety, depression and stress. They either smoke the weed or, if they need a longer-lasting effect, eat it.

Many PWAs find marijuana effective for stimulating appetite and helping them keep down their food. It has minimal negative side effects on the user’s health and is not considered physically addictive.

A groundbreaking study by Donald Tashkin at UCLA in 2005 found cannabis does not cause cancer of the lungs, upper airwaves or esophagus. Another 2005 California study found patients with HIV/AIDS with moderate to severe nausea were more likely to take their medications on a regular basis if they used cannabis.

But acquiring cannabis for medical purposes is difficult in Canada. Only 1,399 persons are authorized to possess cannabis. Only 26 percent of those who were consulted for the CAS report have valid authorization. And a complex set of Health Canada regulations make it difficult to get authorization.

Doctors are reluctant to sign their patients’ request to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The Canadian Medical Protective Association — the insurer for the medical profession — advised its doctors in 2001 not to complete the government program’s documents unless they have “detailed knowledge” about cannabis.