Easier access for medical cannabis

Published on November 5, 2020 by David Wylie

Medical cannabis can be a pain to access.

Still, there are people who are trying to make it easier on patients.

Joel Taylor is one of them.

“Medical cannabis needs to be much more accessible to Canadians,” he tells the oz. “Hopefully we can provide a little bit of a disruption, a little bit of shakeup here to get people to realize that it doesn’t have to be the way that it is.”

Taylor, who’s been involved in medical cannabis for a long time, co-founded Patient Choice as a portal to provide more variety and better prices on the medical side.

“After recreational cannabis came to Canada there was an enormous vacuum in the industry, and a lot of licensed producers turned their back on medical cannabis altogether. Without medical cannabis patients, we wouldn’t have recreational today,” he says.

In some cases, clinics that are willing and able to prescribe cannabis are asking for a “ludicrous” 30% commission from LPs, he says.

“We just really struggle with the idea of a doctor reaching out to someone like GlaxoSmithKline and telling them that they’re going to need 30% of the bottom line in order to prescribe cancer medication to someone. We think that’s not something that’s sustainable anymore in socialized medicine here in Canada,” he says.

“We’re seeing medical clinics treating patients as though they’re a property or that they’re a consumable that they can vend out to licensed producers.”

More choice, less cost

Patient Choice gives medical cannabis patients freedom to purchase from a range of providers, competitively priced on one platform.

The numerous supplier partnerships include TGOD, Tantalus, and GTEC. Patient Choice is adding more producers, processors, and nurseries.

“We’re a scrappy little startup and we’re trying to fight the good fight.” — Joel Taylor

Part of the benefit of patient’s choice is that patients don’t have to go through the process of moving their documents from one licensed producer to another.

“The reason bricks and mortar recreational stores are doing well is the access to variety that consumers have. We want to provide that to medical cannabis patients,” he says.

Through Patients Choice, people can come to a central location and choose from a variety of licensed producers, as opposed to being ‘hitched’ to one producer.

“It’s not easy for a patient to transfer their documents,” adds Taylor.

Doctors are leery

Another challenge for those looking to access medical cannabis is the apprehension from doctors.

“It’s troubling that doctors are still nervous about prescribing it, but the College of Physicians really makes it difficult for them and they feel like they’re taking a risk with their licence,” he says.

Helen Stevenson, founder and CEO of Reformulary Group, says her company created the Cannabis Standard Index to help doctors feel more comfortable with cannabis by providing credible information.

“When you equip people with the information, they make better-informed decisions,” Stevenson tells the oz.

Stevenson has experience doing just that with pharmaceutical medication.

Modelled after the company’s similar portal for prescription drugs, DrugFinder, the Cannabis Index helps encourage physicians who are wary of prescribing medical cannabis.

“We want to help make sense of medicine. That’s what we do in the prescription drug space; that’s what we’re aiming to do in the medical cannabis space. I really believe in this area of real-world data from patients.” — Helen Stevenson

Stevenson, who is the former Assistant Deputy Minister of Health in Ontario, says one of the resources is a gentle templated note to doctors from patients who want to explore their options.

“There are physicians that are just a staunch ‘no.’ For the physicians perhaps that are more in the middle ground where they’re interested but they just don’t know, this could be a great tool to assist them,” she says.

Can’t always trust the supply

It has become clear through events—such as the sudden halt of production at CannTrust due to illegal growing—that there’s a gap in understanding what strain could be substituted for another strain if the supply dries up for whatever reason.

If patients suddenly don’t have access to their medicine, they don’t have a credible way of knowing what would make an appropriate substitute.

The Cannabis Standard Index helps patients discover medical products that fit their prescriptions.

In the fall, the Reformulary Group announced its evidence-based index of medical cannabis products, an educational tool that allows medical patients and their doctors to assess and compare products made by different LPs.

“We feel very strongly about putting out there reliable information,” Stevenson says.

The company plans to expand the index to the recreational market, but right now they’re focused on helping patients.

Dr. Alan Bell, family physician and Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto, says the Index helps health care practitioners evaluate medical cannabis with the same level of sophistication as with prescription drugs.

“Rather than relying on a product strain name, or user-generated reviews, we now have a system to help categorize and differentiate medical cannabis using data relevant for doctors and patients,” he says.

By the numbers:

A poll by Research.co found the vast majority medical cannabis patients feel they are taken advantage of.

  • 72% of Canadians and 82% of medical cannabis patients agree that “Physicians who prescribe medical cannabis should give their patients a choice of suppliers and products.”
  • 70% of Canadians and 71% of medical cannabis patients agree that “if clinics that prescribe medication to patients are paid directly by the producers of that medication, that’s a conflict of interest.
  • 70% of Canadians and 91% of medical cannabis patients agree that “Physicians providing specialized consultations to patients considering using medical cannabis should be paid for by provincial health care plans, like other medical appointments.”

Survey results are based on an online study conducted by ResearchCo on Dec. 18 and 19, 2019, among 1,000 adults in Canada, as the Patient Choice model was being developed. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.