A new study from the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) says Canadians living with HIV/AIDS and other serious illnesses need better access to medical marijuana. The study report identifies barriers that prevent patients from getting a reliable and affordable supply of medical pot and proposes ways to make access easier.
According to the CAS, barriers include lack of awareness of the existence of Health Canada’s cannabis access program, misinformation about the program, general mistrust of government, and difficulty finding doctors who will support program applications.
Today, those needing medicinal weed can get it legally only from very limited sources: buying cannabis grown by a government contractor, buying seeds from the government and growing plants on their own, or designating a person to grow plants only for them.
But with 58,000 Canadians living with HIV/AIDS, only 1,399 people are authorized by Health Canada to possess cannabis. Only 26 percent of those who participated in the CAS study have valid authorization, and only 1.7 percent of those users get their marijuana from the government. The vast majority of study participants indicated they get their weed from illegal sources. And the government has expressed its intention to phase out growers licences, which will further force users to either go without the benefits of medical marijuana or to break the law for the sake of their health and quality of life.
Physicians may be unwilling to support their patients’ program applications on a wider scale, the report says, because research into the effects of long term use of weed-especially the effects of smoking it-has been hampered by the stigmatization of marijuana as a purely recreational drug. The Canadian Medical Protective Association-the insurer for the medical profession-advised doctors in 2001 not to complete the government program documents unless they have “detailed knowledge” about cannabis.
But the CAS study indicates between 14 and 37 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS already use marijuana to help alleviate symptoms like appetite loss, wasting, nausea, pain, anxiety, depression and stress.
It stands to reason, and research has shown, that those struggling with nausea may be more likely to swallow prescribed medications, and keep them down, if they use cannabis.
The CAS recommendations call for an overhaul of the federal medical cannabis program, the inclusion of medical marijuana users in ongoing policy formation dialogue, the protection of medical pot users from criminal prosecution, and active dissemination of information to combat stigma and to help those who need medical pot to access a safe, reliable, and affordable supply.
“We favour providing authorized persons with a variety of legal options and projects,” reads the CAS report. “Offering only one legal source and one strain of cannabis for distribution to authorized Canadians may not be a constitutionally adequate alternative…”
Brent Lewandoski, a member of the national steering committee for the CAS study and one of the four panellists at a Jun 14 press conference in Ottawa to launch the study report, said people have the right to choose the therapy best suited to them.
“It’s very important that people be aware that people who use medicinal cannabis do so to improve their quality of life and to help them [get] better and [become] productive people in society,” he said.