Medical Marijuana In Canada: The Doctor’s Dilemma

Tony Coulson

Medical marijuana is a growing business in Canada. The number of Canadians approved to use medical marijuana grew from 500 in 2001 to 30,000 in 2013. This number is expected to continue to climb, and Health Canada has pegged medical marijuana to be a $1.4 billion industry by 2024.

Not surprisingly, these forecasts have led to growth in the number of companies looking to supply the burgeoning market. There are now 23 licensed players spanning the country. Some, like Tweed and Aphria, are publicly traded. So too is PharmaCan Capital, a fund that invests exclusively in emerging medical marijuana businesses.

While the growth curve for this nascent industry looks impressive, it’s not without its challenges. Chief among them is that the use of medical marijuana requires getting a physician to sign off. And based on a recent Environics survey of Canadian GPs, approval won’t be easy to come by until physicians are better engaged and educated by the medical marijuana industry as a whole.

To start, almost 70% of GPs surveyed indicated they were “uncomfortable prescribing medical marijuana,”

To start, almost 70% of GPs surveyed indicated they were “uncomfortable prescribing medical marijuana,” including five in ten who said they were very uncomfortable. However, this discomfort seems to stem mostly from this emerging industry not fitting neatly into standard pharmaceutical practices or possessing typical clinical trial data.

Indeed, the number one reason behind physician discomfort with okaying medical marijuana relates to them having “insufficient knowledge” about the product. And 70% agree that “physicians need more training on when to prescribe medical marijuana,” with the proportion who strongly agree far outweighing those who only somewhat agree.

Unique to the medical marijuana industry, physicians are uncomfortable about the mechanics of production and delivery: two in three agree that they “worried about medical marijuana distribution/growing centres not being operated properly.” As is the case with other pharmaceuticals, significant proportions of GPs also have concerns about addiction, links to illicit drugs and worries about patients abusing medical marijuana.

The news isn’t much better for those producers who see medical marijuana as a cure-all. Only one in ten GPs agree that physicians “should be prescribing medical marijuana more often and for a wider range of patients than they currently do,” and six in ten actively disagree with the suggestion.

The medical marijuana industry clearly has work to do in overcoming these physician concerns if the category is going to continue to grow. And with around 40% of GPs surveyed seeming to be open – to some degree – to adding medical marijuana to their list of treatments, investments in physician education and communications hold promise for garnering significant returns.

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