Since legalization in 2018, Canadians have bought more than $1 billion of cannabis.
Despite that, there’s still a program for medicinal marijuana in Canada. Health Canada continues to regulate producers with licenses. It also issues licenses to medical cannabis patients.
Who qualifies for a medical marijuana license? What are the advantages of getting one in a country that has legal cannabis? This guide answers all your questions about Canada’s medicinal marijuana program.
Most people have plenty of questions about the medicinal marijuana program in Canada. One of the first is who qualifies.
The answer is that quite a few Canadians are eligible for the program. To qualify, you generally need to be over the age of 19. You’ll also need to have a qualifying medical condition.
The list of qualifying medical conditions has expanded over the years. When medical marijuana was first introduced, just a handful of medical conditions qualified. As research has continued, more conditions have joined this list.
Today, the list of qualifying conditions is quite long. It covers quite a few different areas of health.
Some studies focus on how cannabis might reduce symptoms of mental health conditions. Some of that research shows great promise for managing symptoms. Health Canada approves medical cannabis for a wide range of areas.
Individuals with autism may also qualify for a medical marijuana license. Patients with schizophrenia may also be considered. Research in this area has mixed results, though.
Many people believe cannabis can have positive effects on stress management. Stress is often a key factor in mental health. Better management may help patients reduce symptoms or even avoid other conditions.
Stress also plays a role in some conditions that affect physical health. In turn, better stress management may also play a role in reducing many illnesses.
To date, most research on cannabis has focused on its effects on pain. Some researchers say it could be as effective as opioid medications.
Some studies have also shown cannabis can reduce inflammation in the body. This makes sense, because there are links between stress and inflammation.
Cannabis also appears to influence immune function. The immune system plays a role in inflammation as well. As a result, medical marijuana could be an option for those who have pain or inflammation.
Pain is often a primary symptom in many conditions, such a fibromyalgia. Chronic pain sufferers may prefer cannabis to other pain-reduction methods.
Nerve pain is particularly difficult to treat effectively. Those with nerve damage may want to think about medical cannabis.
Cannabis may also help to reduce menstrual pain and PMS. Even migraine sufferers may be able to qualify for medical marijuana. Some studies show it could help with their symptoms.
Inflammation is also linked to pain. It shows up in many conditions, including:
In 2013, news of a young girl named Charlotte Figi took the world by storm. Charlotte had a rare form of epilepsy, called Dravet syndrome. It causes hundreds of seizures every day, making even basic living difficult.
It’s also difficult to manage and treat. Charlotte’s parents felt they had tried everything. Their daughter still wasn’t improving.
They turned to local marijuana producers, who cross bred a high-CBD, low-THC strain.
Charlotte’s condition improved a lot. The strain she used is now called Charlotte’s Web. Research since shows CBD could assist epilepsy, particularly hard-to-treat types like Dravet syndrome.
Research also suggests cannabinoids might help people with the symptoms of diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Both these and epilepsy are considered neurological disorders.
People who are undergoing cancer treatments also qualify for a medical marijuana license. That’s because cannabis appears to help control nausea and vomiting.
Some strains of cannabis, and the cannabinoid THC, appear to improve appetite. CBD may also play a role.
Cancer patients were some of the first to be approved for medical cannabis in Canada. They can still receive a medical marijuana license. Cannabis may assist with pain, nausea, vomiting, and even elevate moods.
Marijuana has also shown promise in the management of HIV/AIDS. Patients with HIV/AIDS may qualify for medical cannabis. Medical marijuana may help with pain, loss of appetite, and other symptoms.
Those with multiple sclerosis may also qualify for medical marijuana in Canada. A handful of other diseases, like diabetes, aren’t qualifying conditions on their own. Their symptoms, such as nerve damage and associated pain, may qualify you for the program.
Last but not least, those who with sleep disorders may qualify for the medicinal cannabis program.
Now you’ve seen the expansive list of qualifying conditions. You’re wondering how you can get your medical marijuana license in Canada.
You’ll need to get a referral from your doctor. They can either send you to a special clinic, or they can make the recommendation themselves, also known as a prescription if they are familiar with it themselves.
In the recommendation, the doctor will outline what marijuana products you’re to use, as well as the dose. They’ll state how long the treatment is for as well, such as 90 days.
This is important, because it gives you access to the doses you need to manage symptoms.
What happens if you’re referred to a clinic instead? You’ll discuss medical marijuana with a team of expert healthcare professionals. They can then make a recommendation for you.
You’ll continue to consult with them about your medical marijuana treatment program.
As noted above, you need to be 19 years or older to qualify for the medicinal marijuana program in Canada. Exemptions are sometimes made for younger people, such as children with Dravet syndrome.
To get a medical marijuana recommendation for someone under the age of 19, you’ll need to take a few extra steps. First, the parent or guardian must agree to the treatment.
Next, you’ll need to get the recommendation of not one but two doctors. This could be a pediatrician or family doctor, as well as the recommendation of the team at a clinic.
Why the extra steps? There are concerns about the risks cannabis could pose for young people. The long-term effects of cannabis aren’t well researched right now.
Experts also worry that cannabis use may have unforeseen impacts on developing brains. Some studies show young people who use cannabis could be at risk for schizophrenia, and babies who are exposed to marijuana smoke may have higher risks of autism.
As the case of Charlotte Figi shows, medicinal marijuana could help some young people with specific health conditions. In Figi’s case, the use of cannabis made sense because of how severe her illness was.
Many people are surprised that Canada still has a medical cannabis program. After all, marijuana has been legal for more than two years nationwide. Is a medical program still necessary?
There’s a lot of debate about this point. Even some doctors feel the medical program is unnecessary. Others, including many patients, feel it’s absolutely vital to getting the care they need.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the benefits the medical marijuana program provides for Canadian patients.
Under the Cannabis Act, Canadians are allowed to have up to 30 grams of dried cannabis on them in public or during travel. Some provinces have restrictions on how much you can have at home, while others don’t.
The law also gives equivalencies for other cannabis products such as:
Medical marijuana patients may have prescriptions that exceed the legal limits. To illustrate that point:
Suppose your doctor prescribes two grams of dried cannabis per day for 30 days. That’s a total of 60 grams of dried cannabis for the month.
Your local dispensary may not want to fill this order. Instead, they'll give you a 15-day supply. That way, you won't violate the Cannabis Act when you leave the store with their product.
That does mean you need to go back to the store every 15 days. If your prescribed dose is higher, then you'll need to go back more often.
If you have your medical marijuana license, though, you can carry much more on you. Patients can carry what their doctors prescribe or 150 grams of dried product. The maximum is whichever amount is less.
So, if your doctor prescribes two grams per day for 30 days, you can carry the entire 60 grams on you. That's a lot better than needing to run to the shop every few days.
The same rules apply to other cannabis products.
There’s no doubt that the price of cannabis is still high. Recent estimates show prices are lowest in Quebec, at about $7 per gram. They get a lot higher, at almost $15 per gram in Northwest Territories.
If you need 60 grams, it would cost you more than $400 to fill your 30-day prescription in Quebec. That’s not counting higher-priced strains or other products.
Many patients who find cannabis helpful can’t afford the price of it. Provincial healthcare programs have been slow to offer coverage.
Luckily, some private insurers have stepped up to the plate. Before marijuana became legal in 2018, insurance providers added medical marijuana coverage.
That can make medicinal marijuana far more accessible to the people who need it. If you buy recreational cannabis, you can’t make a claim through private insurance for it.
The medical program also provides exemptions in your workplace. If you don't have a license, your employer can ban you from using it at work. A license may allow exemptions in condos and other residences that ban marijuana use.
The separate medical program also maintains potential for a separate medical market. This entices producers to grow rare strains that benefit patients. Otherwise, they might focus only on strains that are popular for recreational use.
The continuation of the medicinal marijuana program lets Health Canada oversee product quality. Health Canada still licenses producers, and the agency reviews compliance within its standards.
High standards benefit everyone. Patients need to be sure they’re getting access to the highest-quality, purest product.
Unregulated products may be of lower-quality, which could lower prices. Those products could have negative impacts on recreational users and patients. Patients may experience negative outcomes or not get the doses they need.
Recreational users benefit because producers are more inclined to stick to high quality criteria.
Finally, the medicinal marijuana program in Canada gives patients access to expert advice. Recreational users can “self-medicate,” which can be risky.
With the medical program, doctors and healthcare experts can assist patients discover the right strain and dose for their needs.
Healthcare professionals can also help patients combine cannabis with other treatments safely. Some medications interact with cannabis, which can have negative outcomes for the patient. Healthcare professionals can help patients avoid these risks.
The program for medicinal marijuana in Canada is clearly important for the many patients it serves. It helps them get access to the medical cannabis they need to better manage their symptoms. Since so many people are eligible, this program will continue to help many Canadians.
If you need access to medicinal marijuana, you might want to consider an health insurance policy that offers coverage. Discover your options and pick a plan that will help you meet all your health needs.