Will Legal Recreational Cannabis Kill Off The Medical Cannabis Market? Experts Say The Opposite Is Happening - National Post
People want to make an informed and healthy decision while choosing marijuana
In June of 2018, Canada passed a bill legalizing marijuana for recreational use. It became the second nation in the world to do so, with sales of the crop beginning on October 17, 2018. As the legalization of recreational cannabis allows any adult to openly buy and smoke marijuana, many industry observers believed it would lead to an increase in recreational marijuana use and the demise of the medical marijuana market.
However, doctors, patients, and industry representatives are noticing opposite changes.
Dr. Hance Clark, Director of Pain Services at Toronto General Hospital, has noticed that the number of patients enrolling in Canada’s medical cannabis program is increasing despite the legalization of recreational cannabis. The Canadian medical marijuana market added more than 34,000 registered patients in the second quarter of 2018, a significant increase from around 24,000 that were registered as of June 2015. According to industry experts, the Canadian medical cannabis market size is projected to grow to more than two billion by the year 2020.
Total number of registered patients for medical marijuana in Canada. Source
At his clinic, Clarke encountered more and more people eager to get a prescription for medical cannabis. Despite caution from experts that there’s not enough evidence of marijuana’s therapeutic benefits as compared to the hype, he estimates that 15 in every 20 patients demand marijuana as a treatment.
Why Canadians prefer medical cannabis over recreational cannabis?
According to Dr Clarke, people want guidance on consuming cannabis. They want to know what’s in their medicine and how they’ll benefit from it. Medical cannabis is available only through Licensed Producers (LP) who is subject to strict testing protocols by Health Canada for every product they deal in. It means buyers can see on the product’s packaging what they actually get.
Buying cannabis from the sources, other than an LP, means the product you are ingesting can have additives of any kind, from harmful pesticides and fertilizers to harder drugs. Thus, a strictly regulated medical market protects consumers from harmful substances by providing safe, pharmaceutical-grade marijuana products. Moreover, LPs have dedicated customer care teams that support users with cannabis purchases, guide them on which strains are best for them, and more.
In addition to healthcare and safety, there could be several other reasons why Canadians are increasingly choosing medical marijuana over recreational marijuana. People can claim medical cannabis on their income tax return as a medical expense by having a valid prescription from healthcare practitioners and buying medical cannabis from a legal, Health Canada-approved LP.
Recognizing the growing interest in medical cannabis, Canada’s biggest pharmacy chain, Shoppers Drug Mart, has begun preparations to become a major retailer of medical marijuana. Industry executives acknowledge that the medical cannabis market is likely to grow in other countries that have recently legalized medical cannabis and yet still prohibit recreational consumption.
Medical cannabis industry still needs more, solid evidence
Though Canadians prefer medical cannabis over recreational use because of convenience and guidance, medical cannabis consumers can have serious issues in the long term, says Rob Frid, a spokesman for advocacy group Medicinal My Way.
Clarke warns that the current medical cannabis industry is running empirical evidence, and largely needs proof of its therapeutic benefits. He says many patients don’t even know what they’re buying, or how to make the cannabis product work for them. In a study conducted by Clarke, 75% of the 1,000 medical users participating stopped using the drug after six months due to widely varying quality. Another study finds that many medical cannabis products have no activated cannabis at all, and thus are of no clinical value. He suggests that doctors should educate themselves so that they can avoid unguided self-medication and help patients who want to use marijuana.
However, the Canadian Medical Association – the country’s largest professional group of physicians —urged the federal government to end the medical-cannabis stream following the legalization, to eliminate the involvement of physicians. According to the organization, the involvement of physicians requires more evidence, with large trials and rigorous research methods.
On the other hand, Lynda Balneaves, deputy director of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids, believes conducting studies to support the health claims of cannabis should now be easier. This is due to the fact that cannabis has become readily available to researchers.
According to the Cannabis Council, the country’s greatest success will come from adopting a global view, considering the other nations that have or are about to legalize medical cannabis, leading to a potential $75-billion market. In the meantime, as patients complain that the growing recreational business is creating shortages for them; medical users will always be the companies’ first priority.