Medical marijuana has been legal in Canada since 2001, but a lot of physicians are still leery about discussing it with patients. As a result, it's not always easy for patients to get information about medicinal cannabis, and many doctors are so under-educated on the subject that they can't offer guidance on which kinds of products to use, or how much patients should be consuming.
To help fill the gap, nurses are stepping in.
"Patients who have tried everything, and they've had a really hard time finding the right medicine for them, will have often approached their doctors and are not able to get access," Morgan Toombs told CTV News. Toombs is the CEO of an online service called O Cannabis, which connects patients with nurse practitioners who can authorize medical marijuana use and guide people to the right products for them
"Many physicians are uncomfortable prescribing medical cannabis, and so they'll come to a clinic like ours and they'll get the care and the help that they need."
Toombs isn't alone in this movement either. She's joined by nurses like Susan Hagar of the "nurse-led health care navigation and patient advocacy service" Nurse on Board. Hagar has helped several patients transition from traditional opioid-based medication to cannabis, and she believes nurses have an important role to play in changing perceptions of cannabis consumption.
"Nurses are on the frontline with cannabis these days because we are situated closest to the patients….We have that little bit of extra time to spend with them, to help them," Hagar said. "It is my sincere hope that cannabis and the use of cannabis becomes normalized, that we sort of get over the hangover that I believe people have from the past."
Neither Hagar nor Toombs fault physicians for being hesitant to recommend medical marijuana since there's a lot of work involved with getting the patient the right product.
"With medical cannabis, there is a lot of follow-up care that's required for a patient to find their right dose, to find the right products for them," Toombs explained. "And so we all know how busy doctors are…We can help take the load off the physicians."
With the recent legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada, it's important that doctors are being well-informed on the medicinal applications of the plant. Otherwise, patients will be directed to a recreational market that may not be tailored to their needs. And until doctors are up to speed, it's good to know patients still have trained professionals who can point them in the right direction.