Trying to ease their pain

Medicinal marijuana conference provides information on access to drug

Mitch MacDonald comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on June 21, 2015

Kat Murphy, president of the P.E.I. chapter of Maritimers Unite for Medical Marijuana, and Marcel Gignac, communications director for Medicinal Cannabis Patients' Alliance of Canada, during the province's first conference on medicinal cannabis at Murphy's Community Centre this weekend. Both Murphy and Gignac are patients functioning under regulations that allow them to grow their own medicine. 

MITCH MACDONALD/THE GUARDIAN

When Marcel Gignac broke his back in 1985 doctors told him he would suffer chronic pain for the rest of his life.

For years, the Nova Scotia resident would experience inflammation, which would pinch a nerve to the point of extreme pain.

"It would knock me off my feet, and that would be on a regular basis," said Gignac, who hasn't experienced any back pain for the past six years. "I haven't really felt my back since 2009. It hasn't been an issue for me because I've basically ingested enough cannabis to counteract that pain."

Gignac, the communications director for Medicinal Cannabis Patients' Alliance of Canada, told his story of treating both his back and a later multiple sclerosis diagnosis with medicinal marijuana during a forum on the medicine in Charlottetown on the weekend.

The province's first medicinal cannabis conference was held at Murphy's Community Centre and hosted by the P.E.I. chapter of Maritimers Unite for Medical Marijuana Society (MUMM).

Gignac, who has transitioned from pharmaceuticals to ingesting capsules filled with cannabis oil, hemp oil and liquid vitamin D, said his conditions have improved all over.

That includes regaining the ability to walk again after being restricted to a wheelchair.

However, despite the success of patients like Gignac, the marijuana activist said marijuana is still often seen as a last ditch effort when prescribing medication.

"We try to teach these doctors that cannabis should be your first choice," said Gignac. "I constantly say that cannabis is safer than water, you can overdose on water and die but you can't on cannabis... too much of anything is bad, but since 2008 I've been proving the opposite with cannabis. Because all I've gotten is better."

However, not all who seek medical marijuana are as lucky as Gignac.

P.E.I. MUMM president Kat Murphy, said she's received many messages, mainly from seniors, asking about access.

She said it's been difficult providing a good answer.

"A lot of it has to do with the doctor, if the doctor is not comfortable with cannabis or educated on cannabis, they don't want to deal with it and just say no," said Murphy. "It's a very uncomfortable to have to tell a senior citizen they need to go to a drug dealer on the street to get cannabis if that's what they want to use to treat their health issue."

Even those who are able to get a prescription for marijuana still face road blocks to accessing the medicine, said Gignac.

Gignac, who is prescribed two pounds of marijuana a month, functions under older regulations that allow him to grow his own medicine.

The result is a cost of less than $1,000 a month.

New regulations, which are being fought through an ongoing federal court trial, now require patients to purchase the medicine through a licensed producer.

Gignac said purchasing through a licensed producer would incur a cost of more than $140,000 per year.

 "The system is a nightmare, the system was designed to fail, because they never wanted it to work. The patients, by taking the government to court and winning, were the only things that kept the program going," he said. " I can buy it cheaper off the street than I can buy it from licensed producers. It's become a fact of life. If I want to stay alive and healthy, then I keep using cannabis."