Medical cannabis is a pain to access

Published on July 7, 2020 by David Wylie

You know how people tell you all your life to lift with your knees and not your back? I learned the hard way what happens when you don’t heed that valuable advice.

Packing for a move in March, I’d bent at the waist to lift a box containing a 20-pound bag of flour and far too many canned goods. When I tried to lift it, I felt a ‘zap’ in my lower back and crumpled to floor. Crawling to my bed, I knew the injury was serious.

   • RELATED: Cannabis helped me heal

Being in the midst of the pandemic lockdown, I waited to get help. Eventually, I had to admit the injury needed some professional attention so I booked an appointment with my doctor. A few weeks later, I was in Vernon Jubilee for an MRI. The diagnosis: a herniated disc in the lower lumbar that was pressing firmly on my sciatic nerve.

Unfortunately, it isn’t the kind of injury that has an easy fix. Over the long-term, surgery is about as successful as letting it heal on its own. The only problem is pain. Lots of pain.

This wasn’t my first experience with traumatic injury. Several years ago, I had a pretty major mountain bike crash and cannabis helped me take the time I needed to heal. Back then, I was lucky enough to have someone close to me who knew a girl who knew a guy who grew cannabis. It took a day to access the medicine I needed, albeit rather shadily. Keep this timeline in mind.

In the time between these two injuries, recreational cannabis has come a long way. It’s been legalized and the variety of products available on the market is substantial—from topical creams to water-soluble drops. It is easy to access recreational products, and generally affordable. Walk into a store or make a few clicks online and boom, weed.

Through the legal rec market, I was able to get some immediate relief. The much talked about cannabinoid, CBD, is an anti-inflammatory and well-suited to easing an injured back. And I’ve found THC to be very helpful in helping me to work through the relentless pain and discomfort that seems to hang on like a pesky little demon.

Getting my hands on medical cannabis, however, has been an awful process.

When I talked to my family doctor on June 9 about accessing cannabis, especially with surgery not being an option in my case, he was apologetic that he wasn’t willing/able to prescribe. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia takes a rather gatekeeping approach to cannabis.

My doctor recommended I talk to one of the organizations that specializes in prescribing cannabis through nurses.

Consider for a moment that if you need medication for an illness, a doctor will generally write a prescription on the spot and hand it to you; you can then take it to a pharmacy, and voila, you have it in an hour.

That is not so with medical cannabis. The process is time-consuming and drawn out.

First, there is very little information available on organizations that are able to even prescribe cannabis. I had to turn to Reddit forums to find other medical patients’ experiences. Eventually, I settled on Ontario-based National Access Cannabis as a conduit to a prescription.

From here, it took a couple days to make contact with NAC over email. At this point I had to fill out five lengthy questionnaires—some were very probing about my mental health. It took another couple weeks before I was able to get a virtual appointment with a nurse, another day to get my treatment plan.

With prescription in hand, I now had to choose between a dozen or so licensed producers (LPs) for medical cannabis products—it’s an important choice because once you commit, it’s not easy to switch. Once that decision was made, I had to fill out an application with the LP. Then it takes a couple more days for the LP to approve it and register you as a patient.

From there, you can order.

My prescription medicine was shipped on Monday, and I should (fingers crossed) receive it by the end of the week.

The total time to access: over one month. Is that an acceptable timeframe to get such a widely available medication?

Email me at [email protected].