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Halifax researchers want medical and recreational marijuana kept separate

A pair of Dalhousie University researchers are lending their voices in opposition of the Canadian Medical Association's recommendation favouring a single stream.

Elizabeth Cairns, left, and Dr. Melanie Kelly pose for a photo inside a laboratory at Dalhousie University on Monday.

Kashmala Fida/For Metro

Elizabeth Cairns, left, and Dr. Melanie Kelly pose for a photo inside a laboratory at Dalhousie University on Monday.

Dalhousie researchers are lending their voices to the debate on keeping the medical and recreational streams of marijuana separate.

The Task Force on Cannabis Legalisation and Regulation published recommendations in a framework for legalization of cannabis in Canada in 2016. It stated recreational marijuana be accessed separately from medical marijuana.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) came out against that recommendation in favour of a single stream instead.

The task force noted patients felt a separate system was necessary to avoid losing their current access rights to cannabis. Some patient concerns included:

“The loss of recognition that their use of cannabis is for medical purposes and occurs under the supervision of a physician; shortages of supply; barriers for young people; and the stigma associated with having to purchase cannabis for medical purposes from a non-medical retail outlet.”

Melanie Kelly, professor of pharmacology at Dalhousie University and Elizabeth Cairns, a PhD candidate studying pharmacology, co-authored a commentary in the Canadian Medical Association Journal agreeing with the task force recommendations.

“We just felt that as experienced researchers, we are very close to the data on what’s out there and we understand their apprehension but we thought we should put our opinion out there,” said Cairns.

She said the CMA stated there is not enough research and clinical evidence that supports medical use.

Although it might be true for a lot of major conditions like cancer and heart disease, Cairns said there is substantial evidence of the effectiveness of cannabis in the treatment of chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and MS symptoms.

“CMA doesn’t feel that doctors need to be invested in medical cannabis because of the apparent lack of evidence for it,” said Kelly.  

She said research in those fields is required in order to learn more about cannabis and its medical uses, and the single-stream approach might hinder that.

“If we see that there would only be one stream, which of course would be driven by the (consumer) market, then it would lean more towards the recreational,” Kelly said.

“That would certainly drive the field, not just in terms of what's being produced but what research is being done or funded.”

She said there is research being done in the field. But it’s more driven towards harm reduction stemming from recreational use instead of therapeutic use which would drive the medical use.

“It matters a lot to patients that you have to go to the liquor store for your medication and then it's not the one you necessarily want,” said Kelly.

“Patients want the reassurance that this is something that will be useful for them and they want to be able to interact with other healthcare professionals like pharmacists, their doctor. They want monitoring. They want the assurance that they get appropriate feedback on use.”

The regulations of the Cannabis Act are still being discussed until July of next year when marijuana officially becomes legal in Canada.

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