The Quebec College of Physicians is warning its members not to prescribe medical marijuana, despite new federal laws that put doctors in charge of authorizing the treatment.
“The new [federal] regulations, compared to the old regulations, now puts the burden of prescribing marijuana on the shoulder of physicians. This is the main difference,” explains Dr. Yves Robert, secretary of the Quebec College of Physicians (CMQ).
“The problem is that medical marijuana is not a recognized treatment. This is the basis of our guidelines,” he adds.
Because marijuana is not officially authorized as a medicine, the College will only be allowing doctors to prescribe it “within a research framework.”
But currently no such framework exists. The College says it plans to establish a program by this summer that will let physicians participate in a research database for medical marijuana.
Even then, the CMQ’s guidelines only permit cannabis to be prescribed for 7 specific conditions: multiple sclerosis, spinal injury, spinal cord disease, cancer, AIDS/HIV, epilepsy, and arthritis.
The list is a shortened version of the qualifying conditions set out by Health Canada’s previous program.
On the other hand, Health Canada’s new rules, which came into effect April 1, impose no restrictions on who is eligible for medical marijuana.
“For now, this is actually worse than the old program, because it cuts out a lot of patients who don’t fit into this first category that the College released,” says Adam Greenblatt, executive director of the Medical Cannabis Access Society in Montreal.
“Some examples of this are patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia. None of these are included on this initial list on the College’s guidelines.”
‘Patients Deserve Better’
Dr. Marcia Gillman, a palliative care specialist at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, also criticizes the College’s stance.
“I have been prescribing medical cannabis with very good results,” says Dr. Gillman, adding that she typically recommends the drug for patients with terminal cancer.
“In addition to managing pain, medical marijuana has helped alleviate other troubling symptoms in my patient population, such as anxiety, insomnia, nausea and lack of appetite.”
Describing the CMQ’s position on cannabis as “ill-informed,” Dr. Gillman says she is both saddened and frustrated by the new guidelines. “Quebec patients deserve better,” she explains.
According to data from Health Canada, 7% of doctors nationwide have written a recommendation for medical marijuana in the past.