Keep Canada’s Medical and Adult-Use Systems Separate, Researchers Say

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As Canada works towards next year’s launch of an adult-use cannabis market, there are still some key regulatory issues to hammer out. One of which is how the country should handle its existing medical marijuana program.

A pair of pharmacology researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, want to see officials separate medical and adult use. Such a system, they argue, would keep patients safe by assuring the quality of medical cannabis.

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In an op-ed published in the latest issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, professor Melanie Kelly and PhD student Elizabeth Cairns endorse a recommendation initially proposed by the Liberal government’s task force on cannabis legalization and regulation aimed at keeping the nation’s two so-called cannabis “streams”—medical and recreational—separate and distinct.

“[Patients] are potentially looking for a totally different product,” Cairns said, “and there’s no guarantee with a market that’s recreationally driven that that product will be maintained and sold.”

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Combining the programs, she added, could end up disappointing patients and recreational consumers alike.

“With recreational cannabis, what you’re looking for is intoxication—that is not necessarily the case for medicinal cannabis,” Cairns said.

There were three main points that Cairns and Kelly argued to keep a dual-stream approach. It would help decrease patient stigma that could result from lumping medical consumers into the “recreational” market, they say, and would protect the strains and other medical cannabis products that have desirable effects for patients but may not interest recreational buyers.

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The authors also say separate systems would drive clinical research into therapeutic uses for cannabis and give health-care providers an incentive to be up-to-date on the latest research.

Not everyone in Canada is for keeping the two programs separate, however. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has recommended that just a single stream be used once adult-use cannabis is legalized. The CMA argues that more research should be conducted on cannabis before it be approved for widespread medicinal use.

“We accept that [people] say they have benefited from using cannabis, but there’s no or very little research behind that,” said Dr. Granger Avery, president of the CMA. “Until we have research and the real information behind it, we’re not in favor of endorsing it for medical intervention.”

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