hen she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis five years ago, Faye Jones started conventional treatment for her pain, nausea, and inflammation, she recounted to the BBC. She suffered hair loss, frequent sickness, and brain fog. Her work performance declined. When her boss finally pulled her aside to express his concerns, she knew she had to make a change.

For one in five Canadians, chronic pain is a debilitating part of their everyday lives — often permeating into those of friends and family. An increasing number of family physicians are prescribing medicinal cannabis as an alternative for patients with chronic pain when other treatments haven’t worked, or for those who want to be less reliant on potentially addictive narcotics.

"I think in the future we will look back at cannabis and reflect on how, for so many years, we ignored its many benefits."

Cannabis has emerged as an alternative treatment used for “chronic pain such as musculoskeletal, arthritic joint pain, and neuropathic types of pain,” states Dr. Mara Bilibajkich, Medical Director of Oasis Medical Centre in Windsor, ON. “It has also been used to manage side effects and symptoms of a wide variety of ailments, such as fibromyalgia, nausea and decreased appetite in cancer patients, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.”

The Cannabis Canada Association estimates that between 80,000 and 90,000 people in the country have prescriptions for medical cannabis and that the number is increasing monthly.

How it helps to manage pain

Dr. Christopher Blue, a family physician in Windsor, ON, is seeing the positive effects of cannabis on a daily basis and provides guidance to his patients with questions about how medical marijuana works. “It’s staggering how interesting this treatment is, and how good it can be.”

Every person has an endocannabinoid system, which releases chemicals that control mood, memory, sleep, appetite, pain, and immune response along with other functions. Medical cannabis has chemicals that supplement those produced naturally by the body. Its effect varies according to the combination of chemicals, known as cannabinoids, it contains.

CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are the two most common compounds responsible for managing pain in medical cannabis, among dozens of other cannabinoids. THC is typically used to help treat nausea and insomnia while CBD is often used to manage anxiety and pain. The therapeutic effects of these two compounds are dependent on the proportion of THC to CBD within each individual strain type.

Working with Canadian licensed producers (LPs) allows doctors to prescribe an individualized treatment plan for each patient that’s tailored to their symptoms and preferred method of intake.  The LPs also provide support throughout the patient’s journey to ensure that no matter which stage of cannabis use they are in, they are provided with the appropriate product education and care. 

How it’s taken

After nearly losing her career to chronic pain, Jones started using medicinal cannabis. She currently takes cannabis oils and uses a vaporizer to help manage her pain.  Her life is now back on track.

Patients ingest medical cannabis in a number of ways, including being inhaled through a vaporizer, smoked, or eaten. It can also be consumed by placing a few drops of cannabis oil under their tongues, which is a method an increasing number of patients are choosing due to its lasting effects, simple dosage, and ease of use.

“Oils are very popular right now,” says Dr. Blue. “Patients ingest it by drawing it up in a syringe and putting a few drops in their mouths. They are especially popular with juvenile cases.”

After seeing the therapeutic outcome with her patients, Dr. Bilibajkich is hopeful that prescribing medical cannabis will become more common. “I think in the future we will look back at cannabis and reflect on how, for so many years, we ignored its many benefits,” she says. “I believe in the tale of cannabis — that this is the first chapter in a very lengthy novel."