Medical patients turn to rec weed because it’s cheaper

Published on April 7, 2023 by David Wylie

A woman smokes a cannabis joint. Photo: Adobe stock/the oz.
The majority of cannabis patients who go through the medical channel use cannabis oil (68%), while medical users without authorization use dried flower (79%).

Medical marijuana patients used to be the backbone of Canadian cannabis. They were weed’s greatest advocates, pushing for reform and securing the right to medicate through constitutional rulings all the way back to the ’90s.

With recreational legalization, the medical side isn’t keeping up. As a result, the country’s medical cannabis system is second class.

I’ve had my own bad experience, and I’m not alone—a 2020 poll found most medical cannabis patients felt taken advantage of.

So how do we fix medical cannabis in Canada?

Some of the answers are found in the largest ever survey of Canadian cannabis patients, which has been distilled into an 85-page report.

The Medical Cannabis Access Survey compiled answers from 5,744 people about their experience with the system. Of the respondents, 95% reported they’re currently using medical cannabis and 54% had current medical authorization.

The survey found medical patients are dissatisfied with the medical space and most are using recreational weed instead.

“Individuals with past authorization no longer saw the need for authorization because they could easily purchase cannabis from recreational stores and perceived licensed sellers to be too expensive,” says the report.

“Amongst individuals with current medical authorization, 78% purchased their medical cannabis from a federally licensed seller; however, 50% also reported obtaining medical cannabis from a recreational source.”

The report says the biggest barriers are cost, access, and information.

The survey has six recommendations, including dispensing cannabis through pharmacies where patients can come in person to get their prescriptions.

It also recommends compassionate pricing, tax policies, and insurance coverage to reduce out-of-pocket costs for patients.

“Most of the individuals had a lengthy history of taking medical cannabis and reported taking it every day for such health conditions as chronic pain, anxiety, and sleep issues,” says the report.

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Most of those surveyed say cannabis is highly effective for numerous health conditions and symptoms, including issues including appetite, nausea, seizures, and sleep.

Half say they use cannabis to reduce their use of other medications, including opioids.

The survey found many low-income Canadians, who are accessing the medical side through the right channels, are paying much more to fill their prescriptions with nearly no tax breaks. Yet, those with medical authorization appear to be better informed about medical cannabis, are getting it through regulated sources, and are experiencing fewer adverse effects, says the report.

“Very few individuals reported having any coverage for medical cannabis-related expenses,” says the study’s executive summary.

“Individuals who stopped taking medical cannabis cited cost as the most common reason.”

Here are the survey’s six recommendations

  1. Design, implement, and maintain a formalized evaluation of the medical cannabis framework in consultation with patients and key experts
  2. Maintain reasonable access to cannabis through a dedicated medical framework embedded within the Cannabis Regulations
  3. Implement changes to cannabis regulations, tax policy, and insurance formularies to reduce out-of-pocket costs associated with medical cannabis and re-direct use away from the unregulated market
  4. Develop, implement, and evaluate healthcare professional education training focused on medical cannabis across the multidisciplinary healthcare team
  5. Expand reasonable access to medical cannabis by adding community pharmacy dispensing
  6. Maintain and amplify a federal resource hub that provides updated, evidence-based information and resources about medical cannabis

Read the executive summary.