(Originally posted on Business of Cannabis 4 November 2018)

Two weeks ago, Canada took an incredible leap forward with the legalization of cannabis for adult use. While those who are not familiar with cannabis or don’t think they know anyone who consumes cannabis on a regular basis may assume that most adults use cannabis just to get high, research shows that most “recreational” users are in fact using cannabis for therapeutic reasons.

Last year, Deloitte published a study on consumption habits of Canadians. It found that 66% of cannabis consumers were using it to help with relaxation and sleep, and 62%were consuming to reduce stress and anxiety. There were many who assumed that the introduction of cannabis for adult-use purposes would reduce the demand for medical cannabis, but the early days are showing just the opposite. With the legal grey areas fading, and the stigma around cannabis consumption lessening every day, more and more patients and physicians are looking to cannabis as a serious option – however, the traditional circle of care has neglected to adequately support those patients using medical cannabis.

When a physician recommends a therapy option – whether it be physio, laser eye surgery or around of antibiotics – there is someone on the other end of that treatment to provide the patient with education and guidance. The physiotherapist will explain how certain exercises can help a patient’s symptoms while others might aggravate it. The team at the eye clinic will walk the patient through potential side effects of treatment and prepare them for what to expect during recovery.A pharmacist will talk to a patient about potential contraindication of their medication, what time of day to take it, and whether or not they should take it with food.

For the most part, patients who have been authorized to use medical cannabis by their physician do not have access to the same support. Regulations prohibit licensed producers from providing product recommendations, and even if pharmacists or physicians wanted to support their patients, they often do not have the education or time to do so effectively.

Four years ago, when regulations shifted and Health Canada opened the medical cannabis market to commercial producers, more physicians began to consider cannabis as a second or third line treatment. Many of their patients had exhausted all other forms of treatment, and cannabis was about the only thing left. For physicians however, it was not as simple as “take two of these pills every night before bed” – there are thousands of varieties of cannabis, each with its own unique composition of active ingredients. For patients, they couldn’t simply go to their pharmacist to fulfill their order. Patients had to register online with a growing number of producers and select their own cannabis treatment from a list of cultivars that included Jesus OG, Purple Kush, and Black Widow – not exactly descriptive or helpful names.

Groups like GrowWiseHealth began to emerge around this time as a way to bridge this large gap in the system. GrowWise is a group of nurse educators who are embedded into existing healthcare ecosystems where there are physicians actively authorizing cannabis. These nurses walk patients provide needed education to patients on all aspects of their healthcare plan, from safety and side effects, modes of consumption, registration with a licensed producer, and product selection.

Right away, physicians found that patients who had the guidance and support of a trained healthcare practitioner were more likely to find relief and stick with their treatment plan long term. The medical advisory board at GrowWise continued to provide educational workshops to other physicians. And, importantly, more physicians felt far more comfortable authorizing, knowing there was a nurse there to support their patient, from both a health outcome perspective and on the administrative support side.

However, anecdotes aren’t evidence. What was really missing from the equation for most healthcare providers and patients was the hard evidence. Where was the data that showed women in their 40s living with MS responded better to strain X, whereas men in their 60s living with chronic pain found better results with strain Y? The piece that was really missing from cannabis education, was a large dataset of patient feedback.

One of the most impactful changes from the past year or so has been the opening up of research channels. Thanks in large part to groups like Strainprint Technologies Ltd.,North American leader in data and analytics with over 900,000 tracked anonymized medical outcomes & 38 million data points, reliable, clean, user-driven data at a sizeable scale has never been so readily available.Educators no longer have to rely on our internal database alone. When that woman in her 40s living with MS comes in and is struggling to find relief with her current treatment, Educators can now turn to the Strainprint Analytics database, to find out what is working for other patients living with the same condition. This combination of data and experience continues to improve patient outcomes.

In some ways, patients today are facing many of the same challenges that patients from four years ago did. There are still issues with reliable supply of products and they must still register online to place their order directly with a Licensed Producer, as opposed to going through a pharmacy. And they still, for the most part, lack access to guidance and education.

But things are definitely looking up for medical cannabis patients. GrowWise and other education providers no longer have to teach patients how to grind dry flower and use a vaporizer – they can direct patients to advanced formulations like oils, capsules and metered-dose sprays. The legalization of cannabis for adult-use has done so much to address the stigma associated with cannabis use.Patients and physicians no longer have to worry about their patients getting caught up with law enforcement and having to prove they can legally carry their product. And physicians and educators alike now have access to a rapidly expanding database to support the development of patient treatment plans.

Years from now, we hope to physicians and patients alike will see cannabis therapies just another well accepted tool in a healthcare providers tool box. And groups like Strainprint and GrowWise are working hard to make sure everyone has the education and support they need to make this a reality.

Written by Breanna Roycroft, Vice President, Operations GrowWise Health

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