Original cannabis journalism for Canadians

Medical marijuana: a 'magic elixir?'

"Any similarity between pot and medicine is an illusion," writes an influential Canadian newspaper columnist. (Joe Mahoney / The Canadian Press files)

Margaret Wente, the love-her-or-hate-her Globe and Mail opinion writer known for penning contrarian, Baby Boomer-centric takes, used her latest column inches to hold forth on cannabis for medical purposes.

Provocatively titled "Medical marijuana is a mirage," Wente's column casts cannabis as "a sort of magic elixir" being sold by profit-hungry companies. She cites the skeptical positions of two high-profile physicians with serious reservations about medical marijuana — Dr. Mike Allan of the Alberta College of Family Physicians, and Dr. Jeff Blackmer of the Canadian Medical Association.

"Some doctors and pharmacists liken medical marijuana to the 'new herbalism,' pointing out that conditions such as fatigue, appetite or nausea are quite subjective, and that marijuana doesn't come in standard dosages manufactured with high-calibre precision," wrote the national newspaper columnist.

"Unlike aspirin, there's no guarantee that your next dose of Maui Wowie will resemble your last one. In other words, any similarity between pot and medicine is an illusion that benefits those manufacturers who stand to profit from it."

It's true that plant-form cannabis isn't dose-controlled like aspirin, but does that mean its medicinal value is necessarily some kind of capitalist deception?

James O'Hara believes he knows the answer firsthand. The CEO of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana uses cannabis to significantly reduce his focal awareness seizures, and he's not alone. In a 2017 Health Canada survey, 97 per cent of medical cannabis users who responded said the drug helps them control their symptoms or disease.

Rather than pushing medical cannabis onto naive Canadians as Wente's column implies, O'Hara says medical cannabis companies are "simply facilitating the demand."

Although Wente's column acknowledges that we don't fully understand the true therapeutic potential of medical cannabis due to a lack of "high-quality clinical trials," O'Hara says that's no reason to dismiss it entirely.

"The thing to keep in mind is, just because we need more research in certain areas doesn't mean that medical cannabis doesn't, or couldn't help," he said. "It simply means that the research hasn't yet been done in these areas."

O'Hara said journalists seeking fresh perspectives on medical cannabis should try reaching out to advocates like himself.

And even though it's easy to find doctors who are skeptical about medical cannabis, those definitely aren't the only voices in the room. Canadian physicians who are more open to the possibilities of medical cannabis are just a quick internet search away.

Interested in learning more about the state of medical cannabis research? Read The Leaf's in-depth feature on the subject.

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