Medical Cannabis: Relief for Thousands of Canadians
There is no doubt about it, the medical cannabis industry in Canada is growing. Licensed producers are cropping up all over the country, and with increasing demand is coming improved production.
Not only did licensed producers increase, but registrations for production for an individual’s own medical purposes grew from 4,148 registrants to 14,707. Canadians are speaking, they want unrestricted access to medical cannabis. As of March 2018 there were 296,702 registered patients under the ACMPR
Cannabis may help with any number of health concerns, including; nausea and vomiting, appetite loss, depression, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, and glaucoma. Scientific trials studying cannabis have been limited due to stigma and possession laws, however that is changing with upcoming legalization on October 17th.
The Science Behind Medical Cannabis
The main psychoactive ingredients in cannabis are called cannabinoids. The primary cannabinoid produced is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC. THC is rapidly absorbed by the body, and when inhaled, reaches the brain within minutes. Oral absorption is lower owing to a significant reduction in available drug after passing through the liver. These chemicals bond to cannabinoid receptors on cells throughout the body, triggering different effects in each individual. CBD (cannabidiol) is another common cannabinoid that has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body.
All mammals have an endocannabinoid system in their body, and we naturally produce endocannabinoids. Drugs that target endocannabinoid receptors, like THC or CBD, have the potential to produce beneficial medicinal effects, given the presence of receptors on nearly every organ system. It may even be possible to research and produce specific strains to target specific systems in the body.
The endocannabinoid system naturally produces chemicals similar to those found in cannabis. These chemicals work to pass messages between the brain and different parts of the body through your neurons and receptors. Some medical ailments affect the proper functioning of the endocannabinoid system, which can lead to many of the symptoms that patients experience as part of their condition. The cannabinoids introduced with medical cannabis (which are called phytocannabinoids) help to treat those symptoms by supplementing the endocannabinoids normally produced in your body, and supplementing your endocannabinoid system as a whole.
When the different endocannabinoids work together in a proper way, they help to keep us balanced and therefore, healthy. Conversely, it is becoming increasingly clear that an unbalance in endocannabinoid activity is involved in many medical conditions.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring cannabinoid constituent of cannabis. It was discovered in 1940 and initially thought not to be pharmaceutically active. It is one of at least 113 cannabinoids identified in hemp plants, accounting for up to 40% of the plant's extract. It does not have intoxicating (psychoactive) effects like those caused by THC, and may have an opposing effect on disordered thinking and anxiety produced by THC. CBD has been found to interact with a variety of different biological targets, including cannabinoid receptors and other neurotransmitter receptors.
The use of CBD is on the rise as it has been shown to effectively manage difficult to treat pain, inflammation and general aches and pains. In the February 2008 edition of The Clinical Risk Management Journal, researchers summarized that cannabinoids as analgesics have generally been well tolerated in clinical trials with acceptable adverse event profiles. Their addition to the multi-faceted pharmacological make up for treatment of pain shows great promise.
Medical cannabis is already being touted as the next superfood, and its ability to treat pain and inflammation has individuals rushing out to buy CBD oil and analgesic rubs.
The Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) are the laws that govern medical cannabis in Canada. Legal access to dried cannabis was first provided in 2001, using exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
In 2000 the R. v. Parker court decision held that individuals with a medical need had the right to possess cannabis for medical purposes. This historic court decision led to the implementation of the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) in 2001. These regulations changed over time due to numerous court decisions, such as R. v. Smith which determined that restricting legal access to only dried cannabis was unconstitutional. Legalized producers were now able to produce oils, waxes and other cannabis-based products.
Most recently, in response to the Federal Court of Canada’s February 2016 decision in Allard v. Canada, the ACMPR was put in place. This decision found that restricting a patient to get their cannabis only from a licensed producer was unconstitutional and violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Four sections to the ACMPR:
Section 1 provides the framework for commercial production by licensed producers. It states that producers are responsible for the secure and sanitary provision of cannabis products to its patients. It is similar to the laws under the MMAR program.
Section 2 is also similar to the MMAR in that it provides for individuals to produce a small amount of cannabis for personal consumption. Otherwise, an individual may designate a person to grow on their behalf.
Sections 3 and 4 provides transitional provisions and consequential amendments to regulations referenced in the MMPR. As of August 24, 2016, the ACMPR became effective, although Health Canada continues to accept and process applications to become a licensed producer under the MMPR.
Health Canada has two main roles in administering the ACMPR; licensing and overseeing the commercial industry and registering individuals to produce a limited amount of cannabis for their own medical purposes.
In administering the regulations, Health Canada officials will work closely with a range of groups, including law enforcement, municipalities, provincial and territorial medical licensing authorities, and health care professionals, as well as Canadians who are interested in using the program.
What Does the ACMPR Mean for Medical Patients
Individuals with a medical need, who have the authorization of their health care practitioner, will be able to access cannabis in three ways under the new laws: register with a licensed producer, register with Health Canada to produce cannabis, or designate someone else to produce it for them.
Current patients will not be affected by the new ACMPR and will continue to receive an uninterrupted supply of medicine from their licensed producer. Future patients will need authorization to consume cannabis from their licensed health care practitioner.
If an individual wish to produce cannabis or designate someone on their behalf, they must register with Health Canada. Once successfully registered, the registered person will receive a registration certificate from Health Canada. The designated person will also receive a document from Health Canada containing information outlining what activities are permitted. The certificate and the document could be used by either the registered person or the designated person, respectively, to demonstrate the legal authority to possess and produce cannabis.
Let’s hope that as legalization comes, cannabis will be put under a microscope, literally!