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Canadian Doctors Split on Support for Cannabis




Canada legalized the medical use of cannabis in 2001, yet some Canadian doctors remain divided over the looming legalization of recreational cannabis sales.

The Oct. 17 deadline for legalization is fast approaching and 47 percent of Canada’s general practitioners say they are opposed, 32 percent say they are supportive and 21 percent say they are neutral to the move according to a survey conducted by MD Analytics.

The majority of opposition stems from uncertainty and a concern over potential long-term health risks and patient dependence. Others feel confident in their knowledge on the damaging effects of cannabis on developing brains, yet remain conflicted on its effects on older patients.

Although cannabis has been available as a treatment option for over a decade, many physicians are in need of educating when it comes to methods of consumption and prescription. And as cannabis inevitably becomes more accessible doctors should educate themselves on the therapeutic aspects of cannabis.

“It’s interesting that the results were so polarized,” said Rahim Shah, vice-president of client services at MD Analytics in a statement for The Province. “The other interesting thing is that regionally we didn’t notice any significant differences. That level of support, that level of opposition was relatively consistent across the country.”

Regardless of political positioning, many Canadian physicians are expecting less visits from patients seeking prescription medication for stress, anxiety and chronic pain as they begin experimenting with cannabis as a potential substitute.

“I’m absolutely pro, with caution, from a recreational perspective,” said Dr. Lydia Hatcher, a trained family physician in a statement for The Province. “We’ve got to educate physicians, and I think as we educate physicians they will get much more comfortable and will understand the medical uses better.”

Hatcher, like many other pro-cannabis physicians, acknowledges the presence of risks with recreational cannabis. But seeing as a substantial portion of Canada’s population already uses cannabis, she and other doctors believe patient safety should be the paramount concern moving forward.