Dispelling the Myths About Medical Cannabis

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Dr. Lionel Marks de Chabris, a pain and addiction specialist in Sudbury, demystifies medical cannabis and answers the top questions he receives from his patients.

What is in cannabis?

There are 144 compounds called cannabinoids in cannabis. The main ones are THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), but there are many others. Of all the ones we know about, only THC has psychoactive properties. But you don’t have to get high to reap the plant’s benefits. Dr. Marks de Chabris advises limiting the amount of THC and concentrating on the CBD.

How does it work?

Inside our bodies we make our own cannabis-like chemicals called endocannabinoids. When something happens such as injury or inflammation, the body gets thrown out of balance. “If that goes on for a long time, you get stuck in this inflammatory phase that doesn’t seem to want to resolve. The purpose of the endocannabinoids seems to be to bring the body back into balance.”

Why is there still a stigma?

According to Dr. Marks de Chabris, stigma is a big problem—despite cannabis being used as a medicine for over 5,000 years. It was commonly used in the 1800s and early 1900s. But over the last 80 years, there’s been a deliberate campaign of disinformation about cannabis, started initially for political and racist reasons. People are beginning to realize that cannabis was unfairly judged and sentenced to exile from the medical community.

What does cannabis do?

There are a few good studies that show cannabis works well for many people for pain and spasticity. There’s also early evidence for weight gain, nausea and sleep disorders.

What are the side effects?

Common side effects of cannabis include dizziness, nausea, sleepiness, dry mouth, anxiousness and red eyes. He says the important thing to know about all the side effects is that they’re both initial and dose-dependent. This means you’re going to get more side effects the first time you try using and the higher the dose that you start with, so he strongly recommends starting at a low dose and only increasing very slowly over time. The side effects tend to get better as you continue to use it, and experienced users rarely report any side effects.

Isn’t it illegal?

If you have an authorization from a physician and you purchase the cannabis from a licensed producer, it’s legal. If you have an authorization but you purchase it from a dispensary, compassion club, local grow-op or store front, that’s illegal. It’s always illegal if you don’t have an authorization.

How do I use cannabis?

You can smoke it, vaporize it or take it by mouth. Dr. Marks de Chabris doesn’t recommend smoking. “Why would you want that stuff in your lungs?” he asks. “It’s hard to imagine a physician giving you a medicine and saying, ‘Here. Take this pill, set it on fire and breathe in the fumes.'” Vaporizing has minimal odour, no products of combustion and you can even use it around home oxygen. But he believes ingesting cannabis oil is better because it provides a slow, steady release to control symptoms over many hours. The effects can last 8-12 hours (compared to 2-3 hours with vaporizing).

What should I do the first time?

Trying cannabis doesn’t have to be scary. “Your mindset when you first use medical cannabis is very important and directly affects how it will make you feel,” he says. Don’t try it if you’re anxious or frightened. Make sure you’re in a quiet, calm environment where you feel safe and comfortable. He suggests starting with a low dose of oil in the early evening. “One of its biggest side effects is it may make you sleepy. Perfect—go to bed. If you get side effects, they’ll be gone in 3-4 hours or when you wake up in the morning.”

How should I talk to my doctor?

Dr. Marks de Chabris suggests being prepared with studies and research. He emphasizes that cannabis is one of the safest and least addictive medicines. Tell your doctor the risk is low and the potential benefits are there. Ask for a 3- or 6-month trial and see whether things improve. If your doctor says no, request a referral to a cannabis clinic or cannabinoid medical centre.

CARP members receive a $50 credit upon registration as a new CanniMed patient and 5% off Patient Direct Pricing or current best price offer, on medical cannabis products.

This advertorial was produced with the generous support of CanniMed. Learn more at CanniMed.ca