Using Marijuana for Medicinal Purposes

As one of the activities to mark Pharmacy Awareness Month; Vinita Arora, Ashlee Brunt and Tristan Flumerfelt brought the topical issue of the use of Marijuana for medicinal purposes to the latest Grand Rounds session.  From early in the presentation, the team identified their objectives as being: to summarize the plant based origins, outline the current process for access to medical marijuana and to share some of the cannabinoid products available on the market.

Marijuana though grown all over the world is different depending on geography and climate. It is often explored for its pharmacological properties.  The plant itself has been adopted and banished from Pharmacopeia, which is the official publication that lists medicinal drugs, their uses and effects.

“The pharmacological effects of Marijuana depend on the maturity of the plant, as well as the part of the plant used,” shared Brunt, Clinical Pharmacist at Ontario Shores.

Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the principal psychoactive constituent found in Marijuana and is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, but with a slow release effect on particular systems within the body. As a result, the effects of THC may be enhanced as it is stored, with more frequent exposure resulting in a buildup in the body.

Acute and short term effects of Marijuana include cognitive slowing, impaired coordination and decreased function of the immune system.  While the long term use of Marijuana can result in poor memory, vagueness of thought, decreased verbal fluency, learning deficits and chronic intoxication syndrome.

“In low doses Marijuana can decrease anxiety and increase relaxation.  While in higher doses it can cause increased anxiety even panic,” indicates Brunt.  

Marijuana is often used in medical interventions targeting specific properties such as increasing appetites for patients undergoing chemotherapy.  “There are two Marijuana products on the market in Canada that are used for severe nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and spasticity in multiple sclerosis,” says Flumerfelt, Pharmacy student.

Long term use of Marijuana may lead to psychosis and these products are not recommended for use by persons living with schizophrenia, psychotic disorders or who have a history of drug abuse.

As to the current legal status of dried Marijuana in Canada, Arora - Advanced Practical Pharmacist at Ontario Shores shared that “It is permitted for sale but not endorsed by Health Canada.” 

New legislation as March 2014; Marihuana for Medicinal Purposes Regulations states that dried Marijuana can be obtained via a licensed producer. Persons may possess a labelled package with documentation as well as are legally allowed to have a maximum amount in their possession.

In order to legally access dried Marijuana, persons must follow this process:
1. Consult a healthcare practitioner
2. Obtain medical document indicating authorization for specified and duration of use
3. Register and order product from a licensed Canadian producer
4. Product will be shipped directly to you

This continues to be a controversial area and policies and guidelines continue to be developed on the medical use of Marijuana.