Lauren Meadows was a young nursing student when her joint pain, fevers, lack of dexterity and inability to lift even light objects caught the attention of her instructors.
Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, but only after her severe joint damage was identified through X-rays, she struggled to manage her pain, insomnia, fatigue and swelling around her joints.
Meadows tried lots of medications — enduring many side effects — until a visit to the Arthritis Society website sent her on a path to medical marijuana and the relief she was seeking.
Meadows shared her story with hundreds of people jammed shoulder-to-shoulder, standing-room-only at a forum on medical cannabis Wednesday at the Caboto Club.
“Contrary to what some may think, patients such as myself aren’t looking to get high,” said the busy working mother, wife and hobby farmer who lives in Leamington.
“All you are looking for is relief from your symptoms – especially pain – so you can get on with your life without being impaired.”
Panelist Dr. Christopher Blue, one of the few physicians in Windsor who prescribe medical marijuana, said a lot of health care providers are afraid to prescribe cannabis to patients or are reluctant to learn about it.
“It’s not taught in medical school,” said Blue who has been practising medicine for about 14 years.
He said many people, including himself, grew up being told marijuana use was wrong. But today the demand for the medical therapy, from what he’s seen, is growing exponentially and producers are working hard to keep up.
“A concern is that the demand for cannabis at points is far greater than the actual medical supply,” he said. “Some licensed producers are having a hard time keeping up for the demand.”
In addition, the growing number of patients looking for information from physicians and the relatively low number of doctors who are comfortable prescribing it has increased the burden on those who do, Blue said.
He said he can think of only six physicians — with practices in Windsor — that prescribe cannabis.
“When you’re in a town where there’s only a handful of docs that know how to (prescribe) it and the demand is getting greater, that bottleneck is very difficult to manage,” he said.
By September of 2017, he had a nine-month waiting list for patients to come in to see him for an initial visit. That is on top of all the other patients he cares for in his practice as a family physician.
“The cannabis component basically cannibalized all the rest of my practice because I was devoting all my time to that,” he said.
“It got to a point where patients with significant disease … debilitating disease had to wait because there’s only so many hours in the day, so many days in the week. I could only burn myself out so much.”
By September of last year he was forced to stop, re-evaluate and re-work his practice so that he could handle the heavy load.
Janet Yale, president and CEO of the Arthritis Society which hosted the free event, said the society got involved a few years ago because the evidence showed more than 50 per cent of people who use medical cannabis did it to alleviate arthritis pain.
She said at the time, people were having trouble getting access because doctors didn’t know and understand the medical therapy.
“There was all this unmet demand,” Yale said. “People didn’t know how to access it so we decided to get involved.”
Yale said the society is now seen as a leader in medical cannabis support – for research, access of information and affordability. Awareness is being raised about the fact medical cannabis is taxed even though other medicines aren’t and most benefit plans won’t pay for it.
In fact, Yale said that as of Thursday the Arthritis Society will be providing insurance coverage under a benefits plan for all its employees for medical cannabis.
“We’re doing that both because we think it’s the right thing to do but also then we’re building the tool kit in a way so that other employers can use it, insurers can use it, if they want to understand how to build that into their benefits plans.”