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EDITORIAL: Marijuana rejection?


It appears that Dr. Hendrik Visser isn’t your typical medical adviser for the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) of P.E.I.  

The position usually goes to a doctor who has spent a number of years in private or general practice, is getting close to retirement and assumes this less strenuous role, while easing towards hanging up the stethoscope.
Apart from testifying at appeal hearings over disputed medical claims or decisions, the adviser often keeps a low profile, and is rarely the public face of the WCB.
Dr. Visser appears ready to change that image if his remarks this week are any indication. At the WCB’s annual meeting, Dr. Visser was to scheduled to speak on ‘medical marijuana in the workplace.’ The topic is certainly relevant as the recreational drug is now regularly prescribed for pain relief.
Dr. Visser didn’t feel constrained by his topic. He proceeded to question the safety of using marijuana and the validity of research on pain relief. He then lumped marijuana in with much stronger and dangerous drugs and expressed his skepticism about cannabis being a ‘magic bullet’ cure.
The conclusion is that any use of marijuana is unacceptable or even dangerous, and that Dr. Visser obviously wants nothing to do with it.
The WCB is seeing increasing claims for coverage of medical cannabis and based on Dr. Visser’s comments, it will be a tough sell convincing the person responsible for reviewing cases and providing medical opinions on injury claims.
Isn’t most medical opinion past this point by now? Medical marijuana is widely prescribed, based on years of use and research. The recommendation is for adult use only and for young people not to use the drug until the brain is developed and only then in moderation – just like alcohol.
Dr. Visser is being overly cautious, almost to the point of fear mongering. He lumped marijuana in with other drugs seen in the past as miracle cures but which later proved l to be harmful and addictive, such opium, Valium and Oxycontin. He suggested history might repeat itself and that medical marijuana could prove to become a similar pharmaceutical crisis.
Opioid addictions have certainly reached a crisis level, largely because medical professionals over-prescribed the drug for chronic pain, without realizing its highly addictive side effects.
The WCB has a legal opinion that employers have to accommodate employees who take medically prescribed marijuana. But it appears such claims on P.E.I. will face tough scrutiny. Will Dr. Visser let his personal views influence WCB claims involving medical marijuana? He says not, but will look for added guidance from other jurisdictions and will seek more research results.
Caution is his operative word. It might not result in the best decision for injured workers living with daily pain.
Dr. Visser’s comments certainly were not what people expected. He raises serious concerns and questions, which will give clients cause to think twice.
It’s not exactly what an injured worker suffering from chronic pain wants to hear.


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