July 21st, 2024

Medical marijuana patient numbers continue to climb

By Gillian Slade on August 1, 2017.


The number of patients for whom medical marijuana is being prescribed has more than doubled in Alberta compared to last year, says the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta.

In 2015 there were 109 authorized physicians prescribing medical marijuana for 1,750 patients. That would be the equivalent of 438 patients for every quarter of that year. In 2016 there were 329 physicians prescribing for 5,254 patients or 1,314 patients per quarter, said Kelly Eby, spokesperson for CPSA. In the first three months alone of this year, 178 physicians prescribed medical marijuana for 2,845 patients.

There is definitely an increase in the number of patients seeking medical marijuana, said Eby.

Dr. Fredrykka Rinaldi, family physician in Medicine Hat, says she has seen an increase in the number of patients asking for it. She has patients with chronic pain who are on medical marijuana and the feedback is they experience some relief.

“Nothing’s perfect,” said Rinaldi who does not prescribe medical marijuana herself but refers patients to someone who does. “I would say 50/50. It definitely helps with things such as sleep and anxiety. This is an alternative. We’re getting rid of something else.”

Some patients may think they can stay on the sleeping pill as well as the medical marijuana but that is not the case, said Rinaldi.

Not all her patients on medical marijuana used to be on opioids, said Rinaldi. Some are seniors in their 80s.

Not all physicians can prescribe medical marijuana. They have to meet a range of criteria to prescribe the drug. In fact CPSA does not call it “prescribing” marijuana but rather “authorizing” and it is tracked by CPSA.

“We know who is prescribing what to whom. It is one of the drugs we track and oversee,” said Eby.

It is not clear whether the increase in patients receiving medical marijuana is related to the more stringent guidelines and monitoring around prescriptions for opioids.

“I doubt very much it is related,” said Eby noting the new guidelines around opioid prescribing only clicked into place this spring. “I think it is simply more patients are seeking this treatment and more physicians are feeling comfortable with meeting all the necessary requirements and the education and everything else that is needed to do so safely.”

In less than a year access to marijuana will be more freely available anyway as a result of federal legislation announced by the Trudeau government.

There is a group of people who have been doing marijuana and think accessing it by prescription is an excellent way to accommodate their habit, said Rinaldi. When they discover medical marijuana is not going to give them the “high” they want, it loses its appeal.

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