1 in 4 Medical Cannabis Users Say It's Now Harder to Access Cannabis Since Recreational Legalization

Published: July 5, 2019

The legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada has had an impact on access to medical cannabis, with one in four medical cannabis users saying that it is now harder to access the cannabis they need.

According to a recent survey jointly commissioned by Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM), the Arthritis Society and the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA), access issues are just one of the unintended consequences of recreational cannabis legalization affecting medical cannabis patients. Supply issues, the cost of cannabis, or a mix of these factors have also led 64% of medical cannabis users to under-dose or stretch out their supply.

The reality is that since legalization it has become easier for recreational users to purchase cannabis than it is for patients to access it through the long-established medical cannabis stream. Though most Canadians (83%) believe that cannabis is a legitimate medication to treat physical pain and mental conditions, many patients are now purchasing cannabis from recreational outlets or from the illegal black market, and getting health advice from unregulated sources.

Other key findings include:

  • The majority of medical cannabis users surveyed (61%) self-medicate, which could lead to harmful outcomes.
  • Respondents indicated that the most common means of accessing medical cannabis are through mail order from a licensed producer (38%) or through the illegal market (37%).
  • A core group of medical cannabis users (38%) rely heavily on cannabis – top conditions or symptoms treated are physical pain, insomnia, anxiety, stress and arthritis.
  • While 60% of medical cannabis users report taking other medications while using cannabis, a large majority of patients (76%) don’t think there are any side effects from combining cannabis with other medications.
  • 15% of medical cannabis users have either personally experienced or know someone who has experienced side effects from the use of cannabis in combination with other medications.

“For many Canadians with arthritis, cannabis truly is medicine,” said Janet Yale, Arthritis Society President and CEO. “It’s time the health system treat it as medicine – and that starts with ensuring that patients have timely, reliable and affordable access to the strains, forms and concentrations they need, and that they have the guidance of a health care professional throughout the process.”

“In order to have an effective medical system for the hundreds and thousands of Canadians using cannabis for medical purposes, it needs to be more accessible,” added Max Monahan-Ellison, Vice President, CFAMM. “Patients need easy access to a safe, affordable, and consistent dose and cannabinoid breakdown for their symptoms and more involved support from health care professionals (HCPs). This means treating cannabis like other medically authorized treatments by eliminating tax, improving insurance coverage and HCP training, providing convenient distribution through established medical systems like the pharmacy, and more.”

“As medication experts, we are regularly approached by patients about the use of cannabis for a variety of indications,” says Christine Hrudka, Chair, Canadian Pharmacists Association. “It’s important to understand how patients may use and access cannabis in order to help them manage their medications and treatment. While we can do our part as pharmacists to support patients, what they need is more support from the government, who has left them behind on the road to legalization of recreational cannabis.”

The survey highlights some of the challenges, gaps and barriers patients are facing, both in terms of access and support from our health care system, and the government clearly needs to do more to support medical cannabis patients who have been left behind since recreational legalization.

The survey was conducted by Abacus Data and jointly commissioned by Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM), the Arthritis Society and the Canadian Pharmacists Association in order to better understand the experiences of medical cannabis users after the legalization of recreational cannabis came into effect in October 2018.