How these resources are changing doctor-patient relationships and making treatment options more available.
Toronto got its first two medical marijuana clinics this summer. Danforth Avenue’s Medical Marijuana Clinics of Canada (MMCC) began operation June 30. Cannabinoid Medical Clinic (CMClinic), at Yonge and Eglinton, opened two weeks later, becoming the city’s first referral-only marijuana clinic.
Both facilities are staffed with qualified physicians who assess patients suffering from chronic pain or debilitating illnesses and prescribe medical marijuana when necessary. Neither clinic will have marijuana on hand. Patients prescribed the drug must purchase it from one of Canada’s 13 licensed marijuana producers.
So what’s the difference? Are there advantages to mandating doctor referrals?
As a referral-only facility, CMClinic features a strong line of communication between its doctors and a patient’s other physicians, explains Bridget Best, a communications professional representing the clinic. This can be vital when it comes to treating medical marijuana patients, many of whom have multiple ailments, or take multiple prescription drugs (often very strong opioids like Oxycodone) that may not mix well with medical marijuana. As CMClinic explains in an online FAQ page for referring doctors, “The physicians and cannabinoid educators at CMClinic are your partners in providing effective care to your patients… CMClinic works collaboratively with you to ensure the patient receives the best comprehensive care possible.”
MMCC does not require a referral, but it does need documentation of a patient’s medical condition in the form of either medical records or a form signed by their personal doctor. And it does monitor patient safety and compatibility with the drug—for a price. There’s a mandatory $200 annual fee to cover follow-ups once a patient has been prescribed marijuana.
Mandating doctor referrals, though, may limit patient access. The medicinal use of marijuana is still a divisive topic in the medical community. Canadian Medical Association President Dr. Lou Francescutti has declared that doctors are under no obligation to authorize medicinal marijuana use.
To help fight this stigma, CMClinic is making medical marijuana education for doctors a part of its mandate. Many physicians lack information on marijuana treatments, explains Best. Though there is a glut of anecdotal evidence to support the efficacy of the drug, there hasn’t been what Best calls “a critical mass of studies” performed.
The clinic will also host information seminars for patients, referring physicians, and the public on topics such as chronic pain management, palliative care, and addiction issues. Patients have the additional option of paying $200 for a bundle of non-medical services from CMClinic, including the filling out of forms required to receive marijuana from licensed producers, or more intensive education on ingestion methods. They can also purchase services individually, for a reduced price.
Medical marijuana is a controversial treatment option that’s little understood. But, through developments like Health Canada’s recent slate of regulations, it is becoming normalized. And now Toronto has two clinics to help those in need obtain medical marijuana from trained professionals.