Article by Solomon Israel, Leaf News
Afflicted with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, spinal stenosis and a handful of other medical conditions, Alda McMillan is intimately acquainted with chronic pain.
“I lived in the Yukon — I’m a big Yukon mama, and I’m not a wuss about pain,” jokes McMillan, 71, who lives in a seniors’ housing community in Thunder Bay.
“But it was to the point where I just felt like I didn’t know how much longer I had in me. And I was looking at these 90-year-olds, thinking, ‘Oh my God, another 20 years of this?’”
“But it’s good now.”
Relief came in the form of oils extracted from marijuana plants grown by government-regulated producers and used (sub-lingually or orally) under doctor supervision.
“It was huge,” she says. “I started off low like they recommend, and I gradually increased. And the difference was like night and day. I found that I was forgetting to take my regular dosing of morphine, because I wasn’t in the pain that drives you to take it.”
Since she starting using oil about six months ago, there has been a reduction in pain, allowing McMillan to use her walker more and wheelchair less frequently. That means more time out in the world, exercising and participating in a chronic-pain management program in her community. She also relies on weed oil to help her get a good night’s sleep.
“It makes such a difference,” she says. “Oh, God, those simple things like sleep and being somewhat pain-free.”
She has joined the ranks of Canadian seniors seeking marijuana and its derivatives for the relief of rheumatic pain, a trend some doctors say is on the rise. McMillan uses it under the supervision of Dr. Shelley Turner, who practises in both Thunder Bay and in her hometown of Gimli.
Most of Turner’s patients are over the age of 50 — many are past 70 — but they share a common interest in CBD, or cannabidiol, a chemical compound produced by cannabis plants. Roughly two-thirds of her patients arrive with an interest in trying weed to ease the symptoms of arthritis or similar conditions, she estimates.
“They hear about it in the paper, they hear about it on the news,” she says. “I mean, it’s everywhere. So it’s media, but it’s a lot of word of mouth. And people trying to help people.”
Some of her older patients are, nevertheless, reluctant to give it a try.
“There are people who are absolutely desperate,” she says. “They’re well into the whole (cannabis) stigma…. Then there are the people that are completely open and (say), ‘Really, please just help me, I don’t want to take all these pills anymore, I want to feel better.’ And then you have people that have been using cannabis for a long time.”
No one is counting exactly how many Canadians are using cannabis to ease the symptoms of rheumatic diseases and disorders, a broad family of conditions that often result in debilitating, chronic pain. But as of June 2013, 65 per cent of Canadians registered to legally use the drug for medical purposes had a diagnosis of “severe arthritis,” says Health Canada data uncovered by a 2013 access to information request from physician and McGill University researcher Mary-Ann Fitzcharles.
Since then, the number of Canadians signing up for the medical cannabis regime administered by Health Canada has only grown, and many more Canadians appear to be using it medically outside that system. Registering with Health Canada requires a doctor’s note, called a “medical document” in bureaucratic language. Statistics Canada estimates 479,100 people used pot for medical purposes with a medical document in the fourth quarter of 2018, but 620,400 — or 30 per cent more— used it without one.
Dr. Carolina Landolt sets aside two practice days every week to see patients referred by other doctors. The Toronto rheumatologist started taking an interest in 2015, recognizing a dearth of expertise as Canada’s medical cannabis laws opened up.