Life-changing leaf

Louis Power
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Medical marijuana user says doctors discouraged from prescribing; new clinic hopes to alleviate wariness

As the country moves towards legalizing marijuana for recreational use, patients in Newfoundland and Labrador are still having trouble accessing the herb for medical use.

It’s not because of the fact that no licensed producers grow marijuana in the province; doctors here may be hesitant because the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador appears to discourage them from having anything to do with it.


Marijuana For Trauma hopes to expand in N.L.

Jeff Piercey of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s is among the few patients in Newfoundland and Labrador who’ve been able to get hold of medical marijuana. He said it wasn’t easy to find a doctor in this province who would prescribe it. He lives with a chronic pain condition caused by a degenerative disc, and went to multiple doctors on his quest for pain relief.

“The only reason I found someone who would prescribe for me was I knew somebody who knew somebody who knew a doctor. It was very, very difficult – it was about a year and a half process,” he said.

“I went from narcotic to narcotic, and they either didn’t help with the pain or the side-effects were too extreme, and I didn’t want to put that into my body.”

Last January, Piercey finally got a prescription filled for medical marijuana, and he said the leaf changed his life.

“Before I started using medical marijuana, when my chronic pain condition started, I was not able to be a dad. I was not able to be a husband. And now I can be a father to my two kids. It’s given me my life back,” he said.


College’s concerns

Piercey has spoken with others in search of medical marijuana who face similar resistance. He said he learned that physicians in Newfoundland and Labrador are being advised not to start prescribing it.

In “Advisory to the Profession and Interim Guidelines — Marihuana for Medical Purposes,” published in March 2014 ( ), the College says it has relayed concerns to Health Canada about federal regulations, and they have not been sufficiently addressed.

“The College believes that physicians should not be expected to facilitate patient access to a substance, for medical purposes, for which there is no body of evidence of clinical efficacy or safety,” reads the text, which can be found on the College’s website.

“As well, medical standards and guidelines for prescribing of marihuana, addressing issues such as standardized dosage or quality control, are lacking. The amount of active ingredients in marihuana varies significantly, depending on the origin and method of production of the substance. Also, many uncertainties remain about the effects, whether considered beneficial or harmful, of marihuana use.

“In light of these concerns, the College believes physicians will be at increased risk of allegations of negligence and malpractice if they facilitate an individual’s access to marihuana for medical purposes, as compared to the prescribing of drugs and treatments for which there is a recognized scientific body of evidence of clinical efficacy or safety.”

The College also “strongly discourages” doctors from dispensing medical marijuana to patients.

These interim guidelines are not hard-and-fast regulations. The College says it believes it would be premature to publish standards of practice, “as this could be interpreted as the College supporting or legitimizing this practice,” and notes that it is monitoring the approaches of Canadian medical regulators.

This province’s College is not alone in its reluctance to embrace marijuana for medical purposes.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan, for example, had this to say in its regulatory bylaws published in 2014: ( ) “The College of Physicians and Surgeons supports the evidence- based practice of medicine, and believes that physicians should not be asked to prescribe or dispense substances or treatments for which there is little or no evidence of clinical efficacy or safety. The College of Physicians and Surgeons believes that there have not been sufficient scientific or clinical assessments to provide a body of evidence as to the efficacy and safety of marihuana for medical purposes.”

But like Newfoundland and Labrador’s College, it acknowledges that the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations ( ) authorizes physicians to provide a medical document allowing the patient to obtain medical marijuana. It also lays out the minimum guidelines for those who wish to do so.

In other provinces, such as Ontario, physicians are given guidelines, but neither encouraged or discouraged from the practice.


Access in N.L.

Last year, New Brunswick-based Marijuana for Trauma set up an office in St. John’s to help local patients access medical marijuana. The organization is run by veterans, and focuses mainly on helping other veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, though it has worked with civilians as well.

MFT founder Fabian Henry told The Telegram this past summer that it hadn’t been able to find a single local doctor to prescribe medical marijuana, and it had to rely on a clinic in Ontario to obtain prescriptions.

Cannabinoid Medical Clinic (CMC), another organization that helps patients access medical marijuana and other prescription cannabinoids (medication based on the marijuana molecules THC and CBD), is opening a St. John’s clinic later this month which will be staffed by at least one physician.

Dr. Danial Schecter, CMC’s co-founder and executive director, spoke with The Telegram about the clinic and why he feels it’s needed here.

“It’s my understanding that there are certain areas that have been traditionally underserviced, and we do know that St. John’s specifically ... has very few physicians who are comfortable with this,” he said.

Several patients from St. John’s have reached out to see if the organization would see them via video call.

“It’s not the best way to practice medicine, so instead of doing health care over Skype, we’ve decided to open an actual clinic where patients can come and see us,” Schecter said.

Like the organization’s four other clinics (in Barrie, Ont., Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax), clients will need a referral from their family doctor to see a physician at the St. John’s CMC location. There, they will be assessed, and if deemed a good candidate, prescribed either medical marijuana or another prescription cannabinoids (medication based on the marijuana molecules THC and CBD).

Medical marijuana is mailed to users from one of 25 licensed producers on the mainland, and other cannabinoid medication such as tablets can be sought from local pharmacies.

“Doctors are increasingly understanding that cannabinoids, as a class of medication, can be very effective in helping patients in a number of different conditions including chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even gastrointestinal disorders,” said Schecter.

But he knows some physicians are still hesitant to fill a prescription for the herb. In such a case, he said, CMC will be happy to talk to them about cannabinoid therapies




Organizations: College of Physicians, Cannabinoid Medical Clinic, Health Canada RegulatoryBylaws.pdf Marijuana

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, N.L., Portugal Cove Ontario Saskatchewan Barrie Toronto Ottawa Halifax

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Recent comments

  • Ronald Reagan
    February 09, 2016 - 04:12

    Hey NL college of physicians and surgeons, if you think you've been talking to me, Ronald Reagan on the ham radio through a time portal back to the 1980's, it's not me, it might be Rich Little or some impressionist impersonating me and dictating your policy to deny sick people their nausea and appetite stimulating medicine, pain relief for degenerative neurological disorders. I'm much more mellow now, and think you should get with the rest of the continent, Alaska, Colorado, most of Oregon, Washington State and even Washington D.C.! Even Margaret Thatcher has thrown down her iron gauntlet and thinks you should mellow out and stop trying to recommend against what even the federal Harper Conservatives knew to be right!

  • SHAME on the college of physicians and surgeons
    February 08, 2016 - 21:21

    I knew they were lying to me! I guess 10,000 years of archaeologically proven human use is not enough research. How about the fact that for pain such as nerve pain it is proven to work, while opiates do not have a receptor on the spinal cord that corresponds to nerve pain, therefore when they repeatedly tried to give me codeine for nerve pain, which i refused most times, what were they trying to accomplish? Or what were they trying to accomplish foisting off their myriad pill pushing pharmaceutical free samples on me? Or what were they trying to accomplish in giving me codeine with acetaminophen which causes liver damage and liver failure and even 20,000 deaths per year in the U.S.? This after repeated warnings from me that my liver wasn't doing so well as shown by blood tests. What about the liver transplants for people who have gotten hooked on opiates which contain acetaminophen? How about that for negligence, pushing those chemicals down everyone's throats and the cost to the medical system of transplants and societal costs of addiction? How can they say that prescribing cannabis could be considered negligent? As you can tell I am barely reigning in my indignation. Do they have that much given to them by pill pushing drug companies that a GOD given 10,000 year proven medicine from a plant that grows like a weed is so threatening? There is the generic mouth spray called nabiximols that is available here, for heaven's sake, I know there are cancer patients who are nauseated and have no appetite and can't eat, at least try the generic spray first before the smoked cannabis. There is a whole litany of edibles that can help with pain and suffering. It can help people with glaucoma literally see! Strongly Strongly disgusted. I hate you now. Give the people their medicine.

  • Daryl
    February 08, 2016 - 16:41

    And the same regulations were applied to the prescribing of opiates like Oxycontin?

  • Kate
    February 08, 2016 - 14:09

    I think it's shameful for a doctor not to think twice about perscribing heavy narcodics (ie Dilaudid, morphene, oxy's ect) but has an issue perscribing marijuana? I've seen regular, normal, family oriented people perscribed heavy narcotics, for valid pain issues, and they have literally had their life ruined due to the extreme addictiveness of them. We need to get the politics out of medicine and treat patients with what works best for them.

  • santo
    February 08, 2016 - 14:02

    Not all medical marijuana is smoked. It can be in oil form as well. This is the misconception of the plant. When used for medical purpose, it is not smoked. The oil has been given to children in the US for cancer treatment, with success (according to stories I have read). We all immediately see a "joint" when we talk about marijuana, but it's the plant, it's the oils, it's so much more.

  • Ian
    February 08, 2016 - 10:00

    While MFT is nice to have around, it is $700 to get a signature, which most people like myself do not just have laying around to pay for a signature. I think that is highly (pardon pun) wrong to ask. I have been trying to get prescribed Medicinal for the past 18 years. I have multiple ailments that were caused by drunk drivers and a few I have had since birth. Making a person pay that much to get the medicine they know works for them is in my mind just as illegal as someone paying a Doctor $700 for a script of Oxy's. Just hurry up and get things going right here. After all Newfs have been a big part of the Legalization Movement in Canada. We are on par with British Colombian's in our efforts to show that legalization is the way. The second ever Cannabis Day in Canada was thrown here on July 1st, 1997 and every year since. And how do I know? I organized them.

  • Denise
    February 07, 2016 - 20:42

    I hope if they smoke this drug on a regular basis they aren't driving any type of motor vehicle

    • Jason
      February 08, 2016 - 12:55

      Hi denise, you do realize st johns leads the country in DUIs right, i dont see anyone particularly worried about that. Alcohol is so socially acceptable and encouraged in this province its disgusting. People are already driving high and smoking marijuana in their cars all around you. These people are idiots and wont get a referral to a marijuana clinic. Then theres people like me with crohns disease and arthritis and sciatica who have been fighting our doctors and the provincial health system to get access to medical cannabis for far too long. We have fought far too long and suffered too much already to waste it by driving while intoxicated. Dont forget! 40 000 people are killed each year in canada by tobacco, thousands more from DUI related fatalities and alcohol related health issues. number of people EVER who have died from cannabis use = 0 nuff said

    • Jim
      February 08, 2016 - 13:23

      If what you derived from this article resulted in that comment then indeed you are a sad individual.

    • steve
      February 08, 2016 - 15:59

      Totally disagree with the zero deaths resulting in cannibis use. Many users develop depression from prolonged use and commit suicide.Many others develop lung cancers and many are killed because of crimes committed by dealers and users. Its not zero by no means .Many people too abuse the medical mariuana laws thus making it harder for legitimate people .Not unlike OxyCoton whose presciption numbers skyrocketed and people were lying to get it and it caused an epedimic of addicts and crime.Pot like any drug has its drawbacks.

    • Sealed containers used in Colorado
      February 08, 2016 - 21:24

      When you receive your medicine in Colorado, it is in a sealed container. If you are found in your vehicle with the seal broken, you get charged. You take it wherever you are going, and park the car, period. Makes perfect sense, very acceptable to me, not everyone can handle the 1 joint, wait an hour method, somewhat akin to the 1 beer, wait an hour. Which may be less socially acceptable now, for all I know, I don't even drink. By the way, no one smokes a joint and starts a fight, like you drinkers do.

    • Doctors lose relevance
      February 08, 2016 - 21:49

      I can't help it, as of right now, I am just so disgusted by their tactic of advising against a medicine that the federal government says is o.k., you can count on 2 hands and probably a few toes how many states say is o.k., and there are now at least 2 states where it is outright legal for anyone to use, even the district of columbia, where their capitol washington is says it's o.k., but we have doctors advising against it, but give out opioids like candy. right now, i swear, i'll never speak to a doctor again. i'd rather die. GOD help them. I don't care. they've lost their relevance and have no right to be in the same room as me. i read their little opinion piece, and the ignorance is shocking to me. just what do they receive from drug companies? or is it some well placed bribery? is it as bad as the u.s. where they receive "soft benefits" or rewards for pushing the most pills? at least they set out a guideline in their opinion piece that says they can't receive kickbacks from marijuana producers. hopefully let that be the distinction, that the marijuana never puts out free samples like the pill pushers. ugh.... wake up and walk a hundred feet anywhere in the city and smell the medicine.

    • db
      March 03, 2016 - 16:34

      agree 150% eith Jason