Why a distinct medical stream is necessary to support patients using cannabis for medical purposes

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Costiniuk, Cecilia
MacCallum, Caroline A.
Boivin, Michael
Rueda, Sergio
Lacasse, Gary
Walsh, Zach
Daeninck, Paul
Margolese, Shari
Mandarino, Enrico
Deol, Jagpaul K.
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Background Since 2001, Canadians have been able to obtain cannabis for medical purposes, initially through the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). The Cannabis Act (Bill C-45) came into force on October 17, 2018, replacing the ACMPR. The Cannabis Act enables Canadians to possess cannabis purchased from a licensed retailer without authorization for either medical or nonmedical purposes. The Cannabis Act is currently the guiding legislation which governs both medical and nonmedical access. The Cannabis Act contains some improvements for patients but is essentially the same as its previous legislation. Beginning in October 2022, the federal government is conducting a review of the Cannabis Act and is questioning whether a distinct medical cannabis stream is still required, given the ease of access to cannabis and cannabis products. Although there is overlap in the reasons for medical and recreational cannabis use, the distinct legislation of medical versus recreational use of cannabis in Canada may be under threat. Main body A large segment of the medical, academic, research, and lay communities agree that there is a need for distinct medical and recreational cannabis streams. Perhaps most importantly, separation of these streams is necessary to ensure that both medical cannabis patients and healthcare providers receive the required support needed to optimize benefits while minimizing risks associated with medical cannabis use. Preservation of distinct medical and recreational streams can help to ensure that needs of different stakeholders are met. For example, patients require guidance in the form of assessing the appropriateness of cannabis use, selection of appropriate products and dosage forms, dosing titration, screening for drug interactions, and safety monitoring. Healthcare providers require access to undergraduate and continuing health education as well as support from their professional organizations to ensure medical cannabis is appropriately prescribed. Although there are challenges in conducing research, as motives for cannabis use frequently straddle boundaries between medical versus recreational cannabis use, maintenance of a distinct medical stream is also necessary to ensure adequate supply of cannabis products appropriate for medical use, to reduce stigma associated with cannabis in both patients and providers, to help enable reimbursement for patients, to facilitate removal of taxation on cannabis used for medical purposes, and to promote research on all aspects of medical cannabis. Conclusion Cannabis products for medical and recreational purposes have different objectives and needs, requiring different methods of distribution, access, and monitoring. HCPs, patients, and the commercial cannabis industry would serve Canadians well to continue to advocate to policy makers to ensure the continued existence of two distinct streams and must strive to make ongoing improvements to the current programs.
cannabis, cannabinoid-based medicine, medical cannabis, access
Journal of Cannabis Research. 2023 Jul 04;5(1):25