Medical marijuana efficacy for PTSD lacking evidence, says doctor
Payouts for medical marijuana highest for Atlantic Canada veterans
By Melissa Mancini, CBC News Posted: May 12, 2015
Many veterans are turning to marijuana to ease symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, despite concerns from the medical community about how effective pot is at treating the condition.
There are a "tremendous" number of testimonials from patients with post traumatic stress disorder who say dried cannabis helps them, but there is a lack of randomized, controlled trials, said Dr. Stewart Cameron, a family physician and professor at Dalhousie University's faculty of medicine.
In September 2014, the College of Family Physicians of Canada released a document to help doctors decide how to use cannabis in their practices.
"They strongly recommended that it not be used for PTSD," said Cameron. "They suggested it should be reserved as a third or fourth line agent in people who suffer certain types of pain."
Veterans Affairs paid out $5.2 million for medical marijuana to veterans across Canada last year. Of that, $3.4 million went to veterans in Atlantic Canada.
The department could not say which ailments the veterans are treating with marijuana, because Veterans Affairs doesn't track cannabis reimbursement by condition.
'Natural choice medicine'
Medical marijuana advocate Fabian Henry says most of the 500 veterans who visited his company last year were looking for authorization to use marijuana to help with post traumatic stress disorder.
Henry's company, Marijuana for Trauma, connects veterans with physicians willing to authorize medical cannabis. The organization has helped hundreds of veterans fill out forms for medical pot reimbursement from Veterans Affairs Canada.
Marijuana for Trauma calls cannabis "a natural choice medicine" and says it's "proven to be effective in 85 per cent of those who suffer with PTSD."
But Canadian medical authorities are far from assigning such a high efficacy rate to the drug.
Doctors Nova Scotia has said it is "concerned about the lack of evidence to support the efficacy of medical marijuana as well as the need for education for physicians who choose to prescribe."
'I'm not doing it until it's commonplace'
Physicians have varying levels of comfort when it comes to authorizing dried cannabis for medical conditions, said Cameron.
"Some physicians are innovators and early adopters, they're happy prescribing this," he said. "Some physicians say, 'I'm not doing it until it's commonplace, until there's solid evidence in place.'"
Dr. Michael Hart, an Ontario family physician, is one of the early adopters. He works with the recently opened branch of Marijuana for Trauma in Markham, Ont.
In an interview with CBC News when the Markham clinic opened, Hart anticipated having to slow down his family practice because 70 to 80 per cent of his patients were expected to be veterans with post traumatic stress disorder looking for cannabis treatment in person or remotely, using video conferencing technology.
The guidelines from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia for authorizing dried cannabis seem to rule out prescribing by video conferencing, said Cameron.
"The college says that medical cannabis, the dried product, must only be authorized in the case of a doctor-patient relationship and direct contact, meaning one of your patients in front of you," he said.
When authorizing dried cannabis, there are concerns about reselling the drug, abuse and using the drug for recreational purposes, said Cameron.
Prescribing through so-called telemedicine is allowed in Ontario.
Some patients with post traumatic stress disorder can barely leave their houses because of their acute conditions and need to attend appointments via video conferencing, said Hart.
'We'll see if there's any benefit'
Traditional pharmaceuticals have not been effective in many PTSD patients, he said.
"If someone's coming to me for PTSD, then you have to assume that they have severe PTSD symptoms and their symptoms are not being adequately controlled," Hart said.
"If that's the case, then I will prescribe them cannabis and then we'll see if there's any benefit to it."
Veterans are also reimbursed up to $300 for vaporizers to administer the marijuana. That cost to Veterans Affairs is not included in the $3.4 million the department paid out to veterans in Atlantic Canada last year.
"Dried marijuana is not an approved drug or medicine in Canada. The Government of Canada does not endorse the use of marijuana, but the courts have required reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana when authorized by a physician," said a spokesperson for Veterans Affairs.
Nearly two-thirds of the money the federal government spent on medical marijuana last year went to veterans in Atlantic Canada — a region with comparatively few veterans.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, the federal department spent $5.2 million on medical marijuana for veterans in the last fiscal year. Of that, almost $3.4 million — or 65 per cent — went to veterans in Atlantic Canada.
Meanwhile, the number of veterans living in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and P.E.I. accounts for less than 14 per cent of the total number in Canada.
Fabian Henry, a former Canadian Forces member, takes responsibility for helping to introduce medical marijuana to East Coast veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
His company, Marijuana for Trauma, connects veterans with physicians willing to authorize medical cannabis. The organization has helped hundreds of vets fill out forms for medical pot reimbursement from Veterans Affairs Canada.
"I almost became a statistic myself, along with several of my friends," said Henry. "I don't want to see another name on TV of a suffering vet and know that I didn't do my absolute best to reach out and help that person."
Fabian says he doesn't charge veterans. Some of his services are billable to Veterans Affairs Canada; he also says he relies on loans and donations.
'We're directly responsible'
Marijuana for Trauma set up shop in Oromocto, N.B., on March 1, 2014. In the fiscal year following that opening, the number of veterans in Atlantic Canada who received money from Veterans Affairs for medical marijuana jumped from 55 to 352.
That number is more than half of the total number of veterans receiving cash for cannabis across the country.
"We're directly responsible and I'm OK with that," said Henry, who did six tours during his 12 years with the military.
"This is a veterans helping veterans organization and that's our focus. If it saved my life and gave me relief, how many other guys are suffering that don't know about this plant?"
It was during his second tour in Afghanistan that Henry developed post-traumatic stress disorder and "walked the suicide line." He said traditional treatments didn't work for him and medical cannabis was the only treatment that relieved his symptoms.
Now he's on a mission to bring the drug to others. If his expansion plans go through, the federal government could be facing a much higher medical marijuana bill next year.
'I'm expecting thousands'
Henry said he doesn't plan on stopping until there is cannabis "equality" for all veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I'm expecting thousands to be coming through the door in the coming years, hundreds in the coming months," he said.
Marijuana for Trauma recently opened sites in St. John's and Markham, Ont. Next month, one will open in Sydney, N.S. He plans to set up shop in Halifax this summer and soon after in Victoria, Valcartier and Edmonton.
In five years, Henry hopes to have 50 sites open, each with a veteran running it.
In the past year, some of the veterans who have visited Henry's New Brunswick operation have travelled from P.E.I. and Quebec to see the physician who works with him to authorize medical marijuana prescriptions.
Chris Dupee, who lives in Ontario, drove 14 hours each way in January to obtain the doctor's services. He's now at the helm of the Markham site.
Like Henry, Dupee said medical cannabis has stemmed the symptoms that turned him into a "hermit," including anxiety and depression,
"My life's changed," he said. "I can honestly say that. He's given me quite an opportunity to lead this chapter up and I'm really proud of it."
By the numbers
Amounts for reimbursement of veterans in the Atlantic provinces:
Fiscal year ending March 2014: $200,606.
Fiscal year ending March 2015: $3,381,091.
Veterans Affairs client counts for marijuana for medical purposes:
Fiscal year ending March 2014: 116 clients, including 55 from the four Atlantic provinces.
Fiscal year ending March 2015: 653 clients, including 352 from the four Atlantic provinces.
Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O'Toole blasts marijuana for PTSD
Medical marijuana usage caused by Veterans Affairs 'failing,' says Liberal critic
By Melissa Mancini, CBC News Posted: May 13, 2015
Marijuana has harmful effects and there's no clinical support for it as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, the minister of Veterans Affairs said Wednesday.
"There's a number of voices out there suggesting it's a treatment for PTSD; there's no clinical support for that," said Erin O'Toole. "Certainly there is some support for symptom relief for chronic pain or anxiety, some symptoms."
He spoke after a CBC News investigation revealed that nearly two-thirds of the money the federal government spent on medical marijuana last year went to veterans in Atlantic Canada — a region with about 14 per cent of total number of veterans.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, the federal department spent $5.2 million on medical marijuana for veterans in the last fiscal year. Of that, almost $3.4 million — or 65 per cent — went to veterans in Atlantic Canada.
Fabian Henry, a former Canadian Forces member from New Brunswick, takes responsibility for helping to introduce medical marijuana to east coast veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
His company, Marijuana for Trauma, connects veterans with physicians willing to authorize medical cannabis. The organization has helped hundreds of vets fill out forms for medical pot reimbursement from Veterans Affairs Canada in the year since it's been open.
O'Toole said Veterans Affairs has "been working with healthcare professionals to make sure that if, in some cases, medical marijuana can help a veteran, that's been there for them." He added there are "certainly" harmful effects of marijuana.
Throughout CBC's look at the medical marijuana reimbursement numbers for veterans in Atlantic Canada, emails from a department spokesperson often ended in a reminder that "marijuana is not an approved drug or medicine in Canada."
"The Government of Canada does not endorse the use of marijuana, but the courts have required reasonable access to a legal source of marijuana when authorized by a physician," one such email said.
Veterans Affairs wants physicians to look carefully at the needs of the veteran, said O'Toole.
"Certainly there's commercial entities and a number of parties involved now with the changing landscape since the court decision several years ago on medical marijuana," he said. "But we need this to be a decision of the health care provider for the veteran."
Vets dealing with 'serious mental challenges'
NDP Veterans Affairs critic Peter Stoffer said he didn't know why so many vets in his home region are turning to marijuana.
"I can only assume it's because licensed physicians are saying that for folks going through these very serious mental challenges, that to alleviate their concerns, medical marijuana would be a good thing to have," he said.
On Tuesday, Liberal Veterans Affairs critic Frank Valeriote said vets are treating post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms with medical cannabis because the government isn't doing enough.
"They have to find ways to manage their own symptoms where VAC, Veterans Affairs Canada, is failing them," he said.
But Stoffer said he had to give O'Toole credit for "starting to realize that the cookie-cutter approach to mental health awareness and wellness is not working" for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Every situation has to be dealth with on an individual basis and that's costly, he said.
"Obviously in this case some of that treatment base is medical marijuana."
O'Toole said Canada and other countries are looking at medical marijuana treatment to "make sure we have data and clinical support."
"So that veterans know: is this actually helping their underlying mental health condition?"
Veterans group seeks fees from marijuana producers for referrals
MIKE HAGER The Globe and Mail Published Thursday, Jun. 04 2015
A former soldier organizing hundreds of fellow PTSD-suffering veterans in Atlantic Canada to take advantage of federally funded marijuana prescriptions says he sees no problem with producers paying groups representing patients in an industry with scant regulation on sales.
Afghanistan veteran Fabian Henry has spoken on behalf of his group, Marijuana for Trauma, to a number of licensed producers about sharing a cut of sales or receiving patient referral fees, which he says will help build a holistic centre for his group’s roughly 500 members.
Revenue-sharing deals between licensed producers and clinics or groups of patients are the types of “kickbacks” decried earlier this week by Tilray, one of Canada’s largest licensed growers that has formed its own breakaway lobby group outlawing such practices.
But Mr. Henry says Tilray entertained such an arrangement. He approached the grower last summer asking for a percentage of gross sales to veterans he referred. But he says the company instead offered “$100 a patient.” Tilray’s CEO Greg Engel denied this and said his firm has never paid a referral fee or any portion of sales to any physician, clinic or group.
The practice of some doctors, clinics and patient groups such as Mr. Henry’s receiving money from producers has revealed apparent gaps in the rules that govern the federal medical marijuana system, which was overhauled last year. There are strict regulations that set out how the drug is produced on a commercial scale in an industry that Ottawa estimates could be cultivating annual sales of $1.3-billion within 10 years.
However, there are few guidelines that cover the relationship between patients, their doctors, clinics specializing in pot prescriptions and growers, which, unlike traditional pharmaceutical companies, sell their products directly to consumers. Health Canada does not approve marijuana as a drug or medicine, but is compelled to regulate it by the courts, which have ruled that Canadians must have reasonable access to medical marijuana.
Mr. Henry says Marijuana for Trauma has a referral agreement with licensed producer MedReleaf to help fund its subsidiary, Veterans for Healing, which is building a holistic retreat for group members in rural New Brunswick. Neil Closner, MedReleaf’s CEO, said his company doesn’t have any such referral agreement but is dedicated to helping veterans and will occasionally pay the expenses of PTSD-awareness campaigns driven by Mr. Henry’s group.
Mr. Henry says he works for free and that his group, like the specialized clinics, helps patients navigate the federal medical marijuana system and offers further support. He sees no problem with licensed producers agreeing to “some sort of profit sharing to develop further treatment” for veterans suffering from PTSD at his group’s four centres in Markham, Ont., Sydney, N.S., St. John’s and Fredericton.
“Why should I? They’re making … millions off our injury, off of Veterans Affairs Canada, they should donate some of that back to every veteran group, every legion.”
He says his group members are free to choose strains from any licensed producer, but added that “if they don’t know who’s who in the industry, then that’s my job to … weed out the bad growers.”
So far, Health Canada has said it is “concerned about reports” of producers paying for referrals and is “actively looking into the issue” to determine if they present a conflict of interest for the 19 licensed growers, which it expects to “adhere to a high standard of ethical conduct.”
Mr. Henry says producers view veterans as a small, but lucrative, patient stream.
Mr. Engel, Tilray’s CEO, acknowledged that executives from his U.S.-based parent company, Privateeer Holdings, met with Mr. Henry and a number of other groups “in the early days of the industry.”
He says the goal was simply to suss out whether there were legitimate opportunities to support clinical trials or unrestricted educational grants, which are commonplace in the pharmaceutical industry.
Moncton-based producer Organigram announced last November that it had entered into an agreement to become the preferred supplier of Trauma Healing Centres, a rival group to Mr. Henry’s that organizes veterans to sign up for marijuana prescriptions in Atlantic Canada, which is the region from where almost two thirds of the 653 veterans using medical cannabis hail.
Organigram CEO Denis Arsenault said his company doesn’t pay Trauma Healing Centres for referrals or share any revenue, but agreed to grow particular strains and committed to developing a digital application that would help veterans track their treatment.
Asked why he was listed as having registered Trauma Healing Centres’ website, Mr. Arsenault said he never had any ownership stake in the group and only helped its founders reserve the site when it first started.
“All we ever did was research names and help them understand how to set up a corporation,” he said.
B.C. bud high in THC, but medical pot producers failing on compassionate pricing: report card
Research for the report card looked at 16 of the country's licensed producers
By TIFFANY CRAWFORD, VANCOUVER SUN June 4, 2015
When it comes to the THC content in medical marijuana, B.C. bud scores high, but licensed producers are falling short in compassionate pricing and cannabidiol content, according to a report card on Canada's licensed producers.
Research for the report card, which looked at 16 of the country's licensed producers, was conducted over two weeks in April by Visual Capitalist, an independent firm that creates visual content on emerging trends in business. The company says the data is not intended to be statistically significant, but rather a snapshot of what a company was like at the time of research.
The report card covers four producers in B.C.: Tilray and Broken Coast in Nanaimo; Canna Farms in Maple Ridge; and the Whistler Medical Marijuana Corp.
Visual Capitalist president Jeff Desjardins said Armstrong-based In the Zone wasn't included because it isn't registering patients, while Vancouver-based Thunderbird Biomedical just received its sales license in May, after the research period.
Pricing varied among the four, with Broken Coast the cheapest at a range of $4.75 to $9 per gram, while Tilray and Whistler — which should be noted is an organically-grown product — were the most expensive with some strains up to $15 and $12, respectively. Tilray, which ranges from $6 to $15 offers some of the most expensive strains in the country along with Medreleaf in Ontario.
When looking at THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content — which is one of the psychoactive components of weed — Tilray scored the highest in the country, with 30 per cent THC content, followed by Medreleaf and MariCann, also in Ontario. Whistler Medical Marijuana had the next highest THC content.
Where B.C. seems to score lower than some other producers is with CBD (cannabidiol) content. CBD is one of dozens of active cannabinoids, and is considered to have more medical applications (anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety) than THC. Companies are beginning to offer higher CBD strains for patients who want the therapeutic benefits without getting too stoned.
For instance, while Medreleaf's bud has a CBD content of 20 per cent, Broken Coast has less than five per cent and Tilray's product contains just over 10 per cent. Whistler and Canna Farms were both under 10 per cent.
B.C. also scores low on offering special prices for the poor or disabled.
The report found the majority of medical cannabis firms now offer compassionate pricing for people with disability and low income ranging from a five per cent discount to a full 100 per cent discount. The exception was in B.C., where only one company, Broken Coast, offered the service, but even then it was one of the lowest in the country at 15 per cent discount (Though MariCann had a sliding scale from between five to 20 per cent discount.)
As for social media response, Tilray is killing it, with the fastest response time among Canadian producers to requests from Visual Capitalist on Facebook. On Twitter, Tilray came in just after Tweed and Medreleaf.
Noticeably lacking in social media response time were the other three B.C. producers, with Broken Coast, Whistler and Canna Farms either not responding or not having an account on Twitter.
All B.C. producers had immediate (less than four hours) support service by email and telephone, with the exception of telephone service for Canna Farms, which took more than three hours to return a support call.
Tilray, which incidentally was the only Canadian company to place in all five categories at the 2014 Canadian Cannabis Awards, was also the only company to offer 24/7 phone support of all producers surveyed in April.
Buyers of B.C. bud may also be happy to know that the companies surveyed all hand-trimmed their weed, and did not use gamma irradiation, which some producers have begun using to ensure there are no fungus or bacteria.
Vets find peace at Strathroy pot for trauma centre
By Hailey Salvian, The London Free Press Wednesday, August 3, 2016
STRATHROY - Ken Blanchard said he was downing 600 milligrams of anti-depressants a day to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder.
The 14-year Canadian military veteran said he was taking up to six Percocet pills, a highly addictive opiate, daily for back pain.
Now off the anti-depressants and hardly using Percocets, Blanchard credits medical marijuana for helping him take back his life.
The 53-year-old was among a handful of vets working Wednesday to ready Marijuana for Trauma’s newest Canadian location, in Strathroy, for its official opening Thursday.
The veteran-owned and operated company helps vets dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and pain by helping them get medical pot prescriptions.
The 4,000-square-foot space on Metcalfe Street is equipped with a therapy room, gym and kitchen. There’s also a room that has the feel of a patriotic man cave, with soldier-themed art covering the walls and windows.
“It offers them a place to feel comfortable, it’s a safe zone for veterans,” said Trevor Ambroziak, a 25-year veteran and employee at the centre.
Katelyn Vey, manager of the new location, said the company expanded to Strathroy in response to growing demand from veterans in Southwestern Ontario. Previously, the closest centre was in Markham.
“We chose Strathroy because when dealing with veterans with PTSD, big cities can be tough. Strathroy is so close to London and accessible that they come to town without the burden of the big city,” she said. With 11 other centres from B.C. to New Brunswick, Marijuana for Trauma provides services to more than 2,000 veterans.
Diagnosed with PTSD, Ambroziak, who served in Bosnia and Afghanistan, said he was taking up to nine prescription medications before he was approved last fall for medical marijuana.
“I’m not going to tell you it’s a cure, (but) it’s a tool I use to help me cope on a daily basis,” he said. “I’ve educated myself on proper use and it helps immensely. Now I give back to other veterans and help them with their struggles.”
Town officials, including police, visited the centre, said staff, adding marijuana isn’t kept on site.
Bruce Moncur, a veteran who served in Afghanistan, is apprehensive, calling medical marijuana a “double-edged sword.”
Moncur said he worries pot use could be similar to alcoholism that plagued veterans after the First and Second World Wars.
With files from Free Press reporter Dale Carruthers
Medical marijuana growers push for cannabis oil coverage for veterans
MIKE HAGER VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail Published Tuesday, Aug. 09, 2016
Despite a Supreme Court of Canada decision that gives sick Canadians the right to use medical cannabis oils, Ottawa is reimbursing the country’s veterans for dried pot only, potentially pushing them to less healthy options of smoking or vaporizing the drug.
That has prompted a group of commercial medical marijuana growers to urge Ottawa to expand medical marijuana coverage for former soldiers – a small but lucrative patient base for Canada’s two dozen licensed producers – to include the ingestible oils.
More than 1,700 veterans have access to the largest publicly funded medical marijuana plan in the country, but they are covered only for the plant’s dried flower. They have to use their own money for the oils. Licensed growers started selling the oils last year after the Supreme Court ruled Health Canada was putting sick people at risk of cancer and bronchial infections by sanctioning only dried buds.
“We’ve never heard a good reason why [oils are] not being covered,” said Philippe Lucas, executive director of the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council, a trade group representing four licensed commercial growers.
Mr. Lucas, also head of patient services at Nanaimo-based grower Tilray, recently launched an e-petition sponsored by his local MP, New Democrat Sheila Malcolmson, asking Veterans Affairs to begin covering these extracts. Advocates have long argued that the correct doses of edibles can offer many hours of relief from symptoms. In contrast, they say those who smoke the drug must consume their doses much more frequently over a similar period.
A spokesman for the Department said in an e-mailed statement that “using marijuana for medicinal purposes is a new and emerging area in the medical field.
“As such, there is no commonly accepted practice for the use or dosage of specific products,” the statement said.
The spokesman added that Veterans Affairs will announce its overhaul of the existing rules “in the near future.” Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr said he was “shocked” in March when he learned of an explosion in the number of veterans being reimbursed for medical marijuana.
The trend is largely fuelled by groups in the Atlantic provinces connecting former soldiers who have post-traumatic stress disorder with licensed growers.
Trevor Bungay, a veteran of the Afghan war and a vice-president of Trauma Healing Centres, a network of four clinics that sign up former soldiers for medical pot, said many of his clients cannot afford to pay for their medicine.
“A lot of veterans are just receiving a pension, which is really nothing compared to what your regular paycheque was,” he said.
Mr. Lucas said a recent survey of Tilray’s veteran patients found about half ordered cannabis oils when the company launched the new extracts in March, believing Ottawa would cover them.
In late April, he said, bills the company sent to Veterans Affairs for these orders were returned without payment or explanation.
Tilray absorbed the costs, but informed the veterans it would not cover further orders, Mr. Lucas said.
Orders from those patients fell from 183 bottles in March to just four last month, he said.
Mr. Bungay added that many clients find it too difficult to make their own extracts or edible products out of dried marijuana.
“It’s the same as brewing your own wine and your own beer – most people don’t know how to do it and can’t do it right,” Mr. Bungay said.
Mr. Bungay and Mr. Lucas said the cost of medical marijuana is offset because many former soldiers are using it instead of pharmaceutical options such as opioids (for pain relief) and benzodiazepines (for anxiety and insomnia), which, in North America have been over-prescribed and often diverted to the illegal drug trade.
Soldiers have told The Globe that pot has also allowed them to ditch their erectile dysfunction prescriptions – also covered by Ottawa – and led to other benefits as well.
Government data released to The Globe and Mail in June showed that, over the past four years, the number of veterans prescribed benzodiazepines – with brands such as Xanax, Ativan and Valium – decreased nearly 30 per cent. Opioid prescriptions also shrank almost 17 per cent during that period.
The set of statistics was too small and unrefined to prove any concrete links between the use of the three drugs. But U.S. research has also shown significant declines in opioid overdoses in states where medical marijuana has been legalized, according to addiction experts.
Petition pushes for coverage of marijuana pills for veterans
Richard Watts / Times Colonist
AUGUST 12, 2016
Some Canadian veterans and their supporters, including long-time cannabis crusader and former Victoria city councillor Philippe Lucas, are petitioning Canada’s Parliament for marijuana in pills.
The group says marijuana can help veterans suffering from chronic pain and in dealing with the psychological and emotional residue of combat tours, generally known as post-traumatic stress disorder.
They point out that Veterans Affairs Canada refuses to pay for marijuana extracts or in pills, covering only raw marijuana leaves or buds to be smoked.
“It seems arbitrary to cover the cost of one method of ingestion and not cover the cost of another,” Lucas said.
Lucas recently launched a petition, sponsored by his MP, New Democrat Sheila Malcolmson, with the hope of overturning Veteran Affairs’ lack of support for cannabis in non-smoking forms. The petition requires 500 signatures to be presented to Parliament. As of Thursday night, it had about 250 signatures.
A spokesman for Veterans Affairs Canada said in an emailed statement that the agency is reviewing how it reimburses veterans for medical marijuana.
The review will also look at new regulations, now in the works, from Health Canada on medical marijuana.
Lucas was founder of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society, making marijuana available to people with chronic illnesses or conditions. He was also a one-term Victoria city councillor from 2008 to 2011. He now lives in Nanaimo, where he is a vice-president of Tilray, a company making medical-marijuana products.
Until last year, Lucas said, the company was supplying ingestible marijuana products — such as extracts, drops and pills — to veteran patients. It was a surprise when Veterans Affairs stopped reimbursement for the products, he said.
“These are popular options for veteran patients,” he said.
Veteran Trev Bungay, 39, of Fredericton — who also played a part in organizing the petition — said marijuana helped him get his life back on track.
Bungay is co-owner of a company called Trauma Healing Centre, with four clinics helping people deal with the ongoing effects of traumas and PTSD.
A former infantryman, Bungay served 19 years in the Canadian Army and completed seven tours overseas — including four combat tours in Afghanistan.
By 2012, he found he had anger issues and trouble sleeping. He turned to military medical services for help and was prescribed 22 different pills per day.
“There were pills to sleep, pills to wake up, pills for your stomach because you are taking so many pills,” Bungay said. “I was a zombie.”
He retired from the army in 2014, but problems persisted. He said years of active soldiering also left him with persistent pain in his knees and back. The emotional and psychological problems made him unwilling to leave his home for weeks. He attempted suicide twice.
Bungay experimented with marijuana, smoking it at first. He found it calmed him enough that he started sleeping and was able to leave his home and find his way to a psychologist’s clinic.
“Within six months, I was sleeping through the night,” he said.
Bungay said he progressed to a “holistic” approach using fitness, better diet, exercise and counselling. He still uses cannabis in his food or in a capsule.
“And today I’m on zero pills, not one,” he said, referring to his past regime.
Sydney marijuana clinic serving more than 400 clients after 1 year
Originally created for military vets, the clinic offers its counselling services to all
By Norma Jean MacPhee, CBC News Posted: Aug 30, 2016
A large "Plants Not Pills" sign faces busy Kings Road in Sydney, N.S., the slogan for the chain of Marijuana for Trauma clinics.
Marijuana for Trauma was founded in Fredericton with the goal of helping veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
That was the plan when the group opened a facility in Sydney last year, but it soon began branching out.
It now offers its services to civilians interested in finding out more information about the uses of medicinal marijuana.
From pills to pot
"We aid in the treatment of many afflictions, from chronic pain, PTSD, Crohn's, colitis, cancer, arthritis and many others," said Joe Bisson, who runs the Sydney franchise.
In the military, Bisson survived an explosion in Iraq in 1991. He says he had so many prescriptions to help him cope with his PTSD that one point he was taking more than 1,200 pills a month. Now he uses only marijuana.
Using marijuana for medical purposes has been a hot topic of debate, with many doctors remaining ambivalent about prescribing the drug for chronic pain.
The Sydney Marijuana for Trauma franchise was just the second such clinic in the country when it opened. There are now 13 clinics across Canada, but the Sydney facility remains the only one in Nova Scotia.
It serves clients from New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
The client list in Sydney has grown from 80 in September of 2015 to more than 400 clients.
"Around 420," a volunteer joked, laughing at his reference to what's known as the "international smoke-up time" in pot circles.
'Adults making an informed decision'
The personnel at the clinic, though, are serious about what they do and feel they are serving a growing need.
"This is not 18-year olds eating hash brownies at a Friday night party," Bisson said.
He and others at the centre are determined to help people get the help they need.
"This is adults making an informed decision about their choice of medicine and, when used properly, it can treat a host of diseases and afflictions and it's natural."
Quality of life
Hubba Parris, 70, is one of those adults.
"I haven't felt this good in 35 or 40 years," says the well-known singer from Whitney Pier on Cape Breton.
He did research on marijuana because his wife, Trina, suffered from chronic pain.
He began giving his wife an extract of marijuana formulated for pain relief instead of a high.
"Behold, her pain subsided and she's been on that ever since," he said.
Parris himself has diabetes and three years ago was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver related to his medication. He now takes marijuana capsules in the morning and sometimes in the evening.
"I have bad legs also and I take [marijuana] for pain, and since I started that my pain has subsided."
Parris said his diabetes medication went from 12 pills a day to two.
"People want to get away from the prescription pills and try the marijuana because the side effects of the prescription pills sometimes outweigh the benefits," he said. "So this is where I went and I'm quite content that I went there."
Bisson has no worries that marijuana for pain might be a gateway drug.
"The pharmaceuticals in your medicine cabinet are far more gateway drugs, when you look at how most people get on the harder drugs," he said. "They start with a prescription for an opioid, that runs out and they turn to the street for an alternative. You run out of marijuana, you're not going to snort coke to replace it."
Veterans Affairs data gives detailed picture of veterans using medical marijuana
September 5, 2016
OTTAWA — When he opened a medical marijuana shop in Kingston earlier this year, Trevor Hands had little idea who his customers would be, how much they would buy or how his business would grow simply through word of mouth.
He does now.
Business is booming for Hands, thanks in large part to an influx of business from a single demographic: former Canadian Forces soldiers.
A review of Veterans Affairs Canada data on medical marijuana users, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, suggests the number of users has grown most dramatically in those parts of the country where marijuana shops and clubs cater to a local population of military veterans.
Are those businesses simply meeting demand — or creating it?
Usage rates — and the commensurate federal costs — are generally higher in those areas where the stigma and barriers to medical marijuana use have been lowered or eliminated, said Zach Walsh, a University of British Columbia psychology professor.
Marijuana clubs and shops play a key role in removing those barriers, he said.
"The reason we see higher concentrations in areas where it's promoted is because it gives the individuals with PTSD the opportunity to find out that it works," Walsh said.
Veterans are proving well-educated about the potential benefits of pot, said Mike Southwell, vice-president of Marijuana for Trauma, which helps clients to understand the drug and navigate the federal benefits program that pays for it.
Once cannabis helps one veteran, they tell two others, and so on and so on, said Southwell.
"If a veteran tells another veteran about something that is working for disability, you can be guaranteed that they will tell a hundred other vets."
It's that kind of growth the federal government wants to get under control. The Liberals are expected to announce changes to the medical marijuana program in the coming weeks after years of exponential growth — and soaring costs.
This year, the program is expected to carry a price tag of $25 million.
In 2008, when the government first started covering the cost of medical marijuana, Veterans Affairs had licensed users in only five so-called "forward sortation" areas, defined by the first three characters of a postal code.
By 2012, there were 50 forward sortation areas with cannabis users. Three years later, it was 565; this year, 588.
Much of the growth has been around Fredericton, N.B., and its neighbour CFB Gagetown, where soldiers regularly go for training throughout their careers, said Lee Windsor, deputy director at The Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick.
Many veterans end up retiring in the area, which could help explain not only why it's home to the largest number of veterans in Canada who are medical marijuana users, but also the region where the costs are highest, he said.
The age of program participants is also interesting, ranging from about 25 years old — veterans of the war in Afghanistan, presumably — to 94-year-olds living in the Greater Toronto Area.
The data also suggest that older veterans are prescribed less than their younger counterparts — likely because younger veterans feel less of a stigma around marijuana use than older ex-soldiers would, Walsh said.
Hands said older veterans tend to smoke their marijuana, which means they don't need large quantities, while younger veterans use cannabis in other ways like in baked goods, demanding larger prescriptions.
Dosages also depend on a former soldier's condition, be it mental, emotional or physical, Southwell said. A client with post-traumatic stress or chronic pain is going to need more cannabis than someone with a less serious problem.
"As well, everyone's chemical makeup is different — some people require more, while some less. It really depends on the person," he said.
The question of whether cannabis works remains unanswered in the academic literature, Windsor said.
Walsh is hoping to get those answers. He is set to run the first Canadian clinical trial testing the effects of marijuana on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
For Southwell, the benefits are obvious: his clients feel better and have an improved quality of life.
Veterans officials highlighted cons, few pros on medical marijuana
The Canadian Press Published Thursday, September 15, 2016 2:30PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr was briefed on concerns and questions about medical marijuana use in a presentation to earlier this year, including fears that paying for injured ex-soldiers' pot could actually hurt them.
But noticeably absent was discussion about the positive benefits of medical marijuana, including whether it has reduced veterans' reliance on opioids and other drugs.
Instead, in a separate briefing note, officials told Hehr that they had not been able to prove a link between the two.
The documents, obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act, have reinforced concerns among some veterans that the government is about to restrict their access to cannabis.
The government is expected to unveil a new policy on medical marijuana for veterans in the coming weeks, after auditor general Michael Ferguson reported in May that Veterans Affairs paid more than $20 million for pot last year, up from $5 million a year earlier.
Ferguson said the department, which will pay for up to 10 grams of weed a day for each veteran, had lost control of the program, although some veterans' groups have pushed back, saying any reduction or change to the benefits will hurt injured ex-soldiers.
Medical marijuana company opening Edmonton wellness centre
By Slav Kornik Web Producer Global News
A company that says it provides medical marijuana and services to people dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain is opening a wellness centre in Edmonton.
Marijuana for Trauma, a Canadian veteran-owned and operated company, will hold the grand opening of its new Edmonton centre Saturday.
The company said it’s not a dispensary, rather a support system for safe and responsible patient access to medically prescribed cannabis treatment. Clients have prescriptions for medical marijuana from a licensed medical professional and are approved users of the drug, according to Marijuana for Trauma.
The company also said it offers specialized support programs, peer networks and wellness programs for military and retired police officers and other first responders.
The Edmonton facility will be Marijuana for Trauma’s 12th centre in Canada.
Western Canada’s first medical marijuana support service focused on helping veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain opened in Edmonton on Saturday.
Reporter Juris Graney visited Marijuana for Trauma to find out what it was all about.
Who are they?
“When I started this, I was suicidal,” says Marijuana for Trauma CEO and company founder Fabian Henry.
The 12-year Canadian Forces veteran was deployed six times, including two to Afghanistan.
His PTSD symptoms developed from events on his last tour and when Henry returned to Canada, his life fell apart.
“I lost my wife, my kids, everything I’d worked for, my house, everything I owned,” he says.
When he tried cannabis six years ago, he ditched his meds, pulled his life together and started his crusade to help veterans.
“I lived out of a box when I started this and I had $44 in my bank account,” he says.
“I was 30 years old and it was like the world lied to me about marijuana because I felt this overwhelming good feeling when I used it when my brain was telling me it was wrong.”
The Cape Bretoner used a café with free internet and cheap coffee to help veterans navigate the paperwork needed to access support programs and medical marijuana to treat PTSD and depression.
On Saturday, Edmonton became the 12th location of a network that stretches all the way across Canada to St. John’s, Nfld. and is targeted not just at military veterans but first responders and civilians.
What do they do?
“Let’s be clear: Marijuana for Trauma does not dispense marijuana,” says national business manager, Jean-Guy Bourguignon.
What it does do, he continues, is “facilitate and support safe and responsible patient access to medically prescribed cannabis by providing links to knowledgeable physicians for those suffering from PTSD, chronic pain and other conditions aided by medical marijuana.”
Essentially, they help veterans navigate “the medical and pension benefits maze of paperwork” while helping them source licensed medical-grade marijuana.
They also offer support programs of counsellors, peer support networks, and spousal and wellness programs.
They even offer cooking lessons with marijuana as a key ingredient and are working towards incorporating more health services including psychologists and social workers.
Why focus on marijuana to treat PTSD?
The company’s clinical coordinator, Francois Halle, says medical marijuana isn’t a cure for PTSD, but that it helps with symptoms and quality of life and different strains can be used to target different symptoms.
For instance, some strains with high cannabidiol (CBD) — a non-psychoactive compound of cannabis — are effective for the treatment of pain and anxiety because the CBD counteracts paranoia brought on by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that gets people high.
Other strains create a euphoric high that helps “relax the mind and body” and can aid in getting to sleep.
“Selecting the right strain and preparing medicinal marijuana is not always simple,” Halle says.
“Whether ingesting it in gel cap form, incorporating it into an edible, or smoking or vaping cannabis, patients need knowledge, guidance and skill.”
MPs want new centre to study first-responder stress and trauma
THE CANADIAN PRESS Published October 4, 2016
OTTAWA — MPs are calling for new research centre devoted to the mental health of first responders and other public safety officers grappling with the often disturbing toll of their jobs.
In a report tabled Tuesday, a House of Commons committee says estimates indicate that between 10 and 35 per cent of first responders — from paramedics to prison guards — will develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
"The effects of PTSD can be pervasive," the report says. "They not only affect the individual but can also have an impact on co-workers, families and friends."
The committee urges setting up a Canadian Institute for Public Safety Officer Health Research that would collect data, devise a research strategy and generally recognize the particular challenges public safety officers face in their work.
The institute should be modelled on an existing one for military members and veterans, but operate separately, the MPs say.
They also recommend that the institute's research strategy include a comprehensive overview of the literature on use of medicinal marijuana to cope with stress injuries.
The committee also wants the new institute to work with Statistics Canada on a national mental health prevalence survey to gauge phenomena including repetitive trauma exposure.
In addition, the MPs suggest formation of an expert working group that would draft a national strategy on stress injuries including policies on prevention, screening, education, intervention and treatment.
In their mandate letters, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directed Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to work with the provinces and territories and Health Minister Jane Philpott on a co-ordinated national plan on post-traumatic stress disorder among emergency personnel.
More than 50 people took part in a ministerial roundtable on the subject at the University of Regina in January.
During seven meetings, the Commons public safety committee heard from first responders, government officials, medical experts and non-profit organizations.
It says that while most public safety officers are provincial employees of fire, paramedic or police services, there is still a need for federal leadership and partnerships among all levels of government.
Veterans allowed too much pot, says former NDP MP Peter Stoffer
'10 grams a day is an awful lot of marijuana ... It is an incredible amount'
By Catherine Cullen, CBC News Posted: Oct 23, 2016
Former NDP MP Peter Stoffer agrees that medical cannabis can have benefits for veterans, but says he's worried about the amount of cannabis former soldiers are allowed under Veterans Affairs Canada rules.
Stoffer, who was veterans affairs critic for the NDP until he was defeated in the 2015 election, believes that the high level of medical marijuana allowed by Veterans Affairs — up to 10 grams a day — is fostering overuse.
"Ten grams a day is an awful lot of marijuana to give one person. It is an incredible amount."
Stoffer is now public affairs advocate for Trauma Healing Centres, a company that works with veterans, first responders and others dealing with trauma and chronic pain. While he says cannabis can help veterans who are suffering, he says the goal is to help manage their pain, not to get them high.
"That's simply not the way to go. You're not helping that person at all. You're not giving them any chance of recovery. All you're really doing is masking the pain that they're suffering," Stoffer said.
The Trauma Healing Centres offer counselling as well as medical cannabis consultations.
"What you need to do is really sit down with these individuals, and long before you dispense any marijuana, look at their lifestyle: what are they doing, what are they eating, where do they live, how is their financial situation, how is their personal situation?" he added.
Veterans Affairs doesn't actually give veterans medical marijuana, but the department allows them to be compensated for up to 10 grams a day through insurance. Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr said back in March that he was launching an internal review of medical marijuana policy, after data showed the number of prescriptions had increased tenfold in two years.
The results of that review will be released "in the coming weeks," Veterans Affairs Canada spokeswoman Sarah McMaster told CBC News.
"Veterans Affairs Canada is finalizing its review that assesses the department's current approach to reimbursing marijuana for medical purposes," she said in a written statement.
The auditor general expressed concern that 10 grams was too much in his spring 2016 report.
Auditor general wants better monitoring
"This is double the amount identified as being appropriate in Veterans Affairs Canada's consultations with external health professionals, and more than three times the amount that Health Canada has reported as being most commonly utilized by individuals for medical purposes," the report said.
The auditor's report also pointed out that while Veterans Affairs manages the only publicly funded plan that covers medical marijuana, "it does not monitor trends that may suggest high-risk utilization."
At least one veterans' group takes issue with Stoffer's position.
"No bureaucrat is entitled to get between a patient and a doctor," said Michael Blais of Canadian Veterans Advocacy. "If that physician has written out a script for whatever, it is Veterans Affairs Canada's obligation to fulfil that script if it relates to the wound. End of story. There's no limitations."
Blais said he takes six grams of marijuana a day to help with complex neurological pain. He said his marijuana has a high THC count to address his particular type of pain. However he says many veterans are using lower THC cannabis, which means they are unlikely to get high. Blais said marijuana has helped him and many others get off narcotic painkillers.
He's upset by Stoffer's suggestion that doctors are prescribing too much medical pot.
"We have to understand that these men and women have sustained serious, life-altering trauma in many cases," and that medical marijuana has given them hope.
"And now that they've found relief, now that there's an alternative there, for anyone who is not in pain, who has not sacrificed, to come out and make arbitrary statements on dosage, that — without even looking at [a] man's medical record or talking to his doctor, is ludicrous," Blais said.
Pot for post-traumatic stress
Stoffer and Blais both agree with veterans using cannabis to help with post-traumatic stress disorder. However the Canadian Forces has said there's not enough proof to authorize marijuana as a treatment for PTSD and that some evidence suggests it could be harmful.
It's unclear how many veterans use medical marijuana to treat PTSD or operational stress injuries. Veterans Affairs said in March that it doesn't track the underlying conditions behind prescriptions.
Stoffer said he's seen many veterans whose lives were turned around by using cannabis to treat PTSD. He believes the anecdotal evidence of its effects, combined with whatever scientific data is available, should be enough for the government.
"I believe so. But don't take my word for it, take the word of the veterans who are on medical cannabis and what it's done for them."
A doctor would have to prescribe marijuana in order for Veterans Affairs to cover the costs, but the auditor general also raised questions about the practice.
It analyzed the data for a nine-month span in 2015 and found that just four doctors authorized more than half the medical marijuana claims.
Stoffer added that he'd like to see monitoring by Veterans Affairs to see if the medications they covered are actually helping veterans in the way they were intended.