Following the legalization of recreational marijuana, a growing number of Canadians are looking to experiment with cannabis for its medicinal properties. But with some doctors unwilling to prescribe the once-illicit drug, many patients are seeking clarity in the hazy world of weed by turning to nurses.
Like thousands of other Canadians, Gordon Bennett was prescribed opioids to ease his arthritis pain. But the problem, the 96-year-old says, was that they just didn’t work.
“I could hardly get out of bed,” Bennett told CTV News from his Ottawa home. “It was hell… I had pain in my back, I had pain in my neck, I had pain in my legs -- every part of my body suffered.”
Wanting to see if medical cannabis could be more effective, Bennett hired registered nurse Susan Hagar of Nurse on Board -- a group that bills itself as a “nurse-led health care navigation and patient advocacy service” -- to help him find the right strain and dose.
“I thought it may have been possibly addictive, but I had the courage to go through it and I found that it was not in the least bit addictive,” Bennett, who is currently using cannabis oil, stated.
Having previously resided in a nursing home, Bennett has now regained much of his independence.
“I’m living again,” he said. “Right now, I am looking after myself in a big home, I have no trouble getting around, my walking has improved and I have no pain whatsoever.”
Cannabis has been legal for medical use in Canada since 2001. And while Health Canada warns of the negative side effects of smoking marijuana, patients have reportedly successfully used products like cannabis oils, edibles and vaporizers to treat everything from arthritis to anxiety to epilepsy.
But some doctors are still uncomfortable with medical marijuana and its limited scientific backing. That’s why nurses like Hagar are increasingly taking time to learn about how marijuana works to help guide cannabis-curious patients like Bennett.
“Nurses are on the frontline with cannabis these days because we are situated closest to the patients… We have that little bit of extra time to spend with them, to help them,” Hagar told CTV News from Ottawa.
“It is my sincere hope that cannabis and the use of cannabis becomes normalized, that we sort of get over the hangover that I believe people have from the past.”
Replacing opioids with cannabis
Anita Rosenfeld of Ottawa also hired Hagar to help her get off opioids and treat the “unbearable” pain she experiences from arthritis and spinal compression fractures caused by osteoporosis.
“The pain was excruciating to the point where I was in bed crying all day long,” the 59-year-old told CTV News. “Basically, I did nothing. I was housebound… It was totally encompassing and I had discussed medically-assisted death.”
With the help of Hagar, Rosenfeld -- who had never dabbled with marijuana before -- was eventually turned on to cannabis oil.
“As I started to take it in the proper fashion and up to the appropriate level, then I just started getting better and better and better,” Rosenfeld said.
“I’ve done more in the last two weeks than I probably did in two years. I have a fuller schedule. I have a life. I have happiness. I have joy… I am able to enjoy my life I am able to contribute in a way that I haven’t been able to for five years.”
Nurses are also behind a new online service called O Cannabis, where nurse practitioners can authorize medical cannabis use and offer patients ongoing guidance and support via video link or telephone from the comfort of their homes.
Morgan Toombs, who serves as the company’s CEO, says they have already helped nearly 10,000 Canadians.
“The feedback that we’ve been getting is just extraordinary,” Toombs told CTV News from O Cannabis’ Oakville, Ont. headquarters
“This is really why we all do the work that we do. People are getting better with medical cannabis and it’s so rewarding to hear their stories. It’s incredible!”
Finding the right product
Nurses like Hagar and Toombs insist their forays into the field of medical marijuana are by no means a bid to replace physicians, but a way to fill a gap created by a new medical tool and serve the patients who want to try it.
“Patients who have tried everything, and they’ve had a really hard time finding the right medicine for them, will have often approached their doctors and are not able to get access,” Toombs claimed. “Many physicians are uncomfortable prescribing medical cannabis and so they’ll come to a clinic like ours and they’ll get the care and the help that they need.”
What’s more, Toombs added, is that nurses can take the time to help patients sort through the myriad cannabis products to find one that works best for them.
“With medical cannabis, there is a lot of follow-up care that’s required for a patient to find their right dose, to find the right products for them,” Toombs added. “And so we all know how busy doctors are… We can help take the load off the physicians.”
With a report by CTV News Medical Affairs Specialist Avis Favaro and Producer Elizabeth St. Philip