Cancer and accessibility to medical marijuana
By Christian Dutchyn
Although medical marijuana is legal, some people suffering from chronic pain and debilitating illnesses are having difficulty affording the medicine.
The use of medical marijuana has been legal in Canada since the early 2000s and its use spans thousands of years. It is prescribed to patients to treat the symptoms of chronic pain, cancer and epilepsy. Marijuana has been proven to be effective in treating the symptoms of these illnesses but Health Canada does not cover the expense of the medicine. This means patients have to pay out of pocket to receive the treatment they need. With the average cost of medical marijuana being $7 a gram and a regular prescription being one gram a day, patients will have to pay at least $210 a month or just over $2,500 a year for their prescription.
Ronan Levy, one of the directors of Canadian Cannabis Clinics, said the process of getting a prescription is fairly easy. He also said all medical marijuana dispensaries in Canada are illegal and patients have their medication mailed to them.
“The process is relatively simple. If you’re a person suffering from a chronic condition and you’ve tried conventional treatments that have not been successful then you can get in touch with the clinic. We’ll ask you to get a referral from your GP or specialist… we will review your medical records to make sure you’re a viable candidate and that you’re actually diagnosed with a condition,” said Levy. “The only legal way to get cannabis is to register with one of the 29 licensed producers authorized by Health Canada… you can order online or over the phone and it gets shipped by courier.”
Even though a prescription may be relatively simple to obtain, the price is an obstacle for patients. Many patients suffering from chronic illness are unable to work and hence unable to pay. This forces them to either work as much as they can while they suffer or go without the medication that improves their quality of life.
Bill Fowler, an advocate for medical marijuana, has been using the medicine since he was diagnosed with stage four leukemia. When he was diagnosed, he was given six months to live. He originally used trimethylbicyclonitramineoheptane chloride, also known as 714X, to treat his cancer but soon researched the effectiveness of marijuana in cancer patients. He used oil extracted from marijuana to treat his cancer and its symptoms and began to notice a massive improvement.
“My blood levels changed and the nodes went down. You could look at me and see the lumps in my neck and feel them in my abdomen and under my arms. They started to disappear, I started to feel good, I started to get my energy back, I became who I was before,” said Fowler.
He also said the price is too high for the people who really need it, resulting in their deaths.
“You have to jump through hoops to get it. It’s expensive to get and the people who need it are so sick most of the time they aren’t working so they can’t afford it and they end up dying.”
Fowler also went through chemotherapy and was overdosed on the radiation twice. He now suffers long-term effects from the chemo poisoning.
“They overdosed me the first time in December 2013 and I almost died from it. I was at home and got rushed back to the cancer centre and spent four days in the hospital again while they tried to treat me and stabilize me,” said Fowler “Their excuse was it was the side effects of the first time having it so I went the second round and they overdosed me again and I got ahold of my doctor in Toronto and they transferred me to the new cancer centre in Oshawa… that’s when it was determined that they overdosed me. I did three more treatments and I said I’m not doing this anymore because the side effects and after more research I found it was just killing me so at that point I decided to go back on the oil.”
Fowler did the Tough Mudder obstacle course two months after they said he would be dead and is certain marijuana is what cured his cancer.
“I’m alive today because of it,” he said.
More information about marijuana’s medical benefits for cancer patients is available at cancer.ca.