Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Doctors in pain over cure

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Most medical doctors in Manitoba apparently believe marijuana is not an appropriate treatment for any health problem, even though 37,000 Canadians, including 443 in Manitoba, are licensed to use it for health reasons.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba has not prohibited doctors from authorizing their patients to use marijuana, but the regulatory body made it clear most doctors want nothing to do with it. The college says there simply isn't enough reliable scientific information and research on the subject.

Marijuana use for medical purposes has been legal in Canada since a court decision in 2001, but it has been left to individual doctors to decide if they want to authorize their patients to use it.

In the past, Health Canada's approval was also needed, but its role will be eliminated on April 1.

Health Canada has never approved nor disapproved of marijuana as a therapeutic tool, but it has made volumes of information available to medical professionals.

Some sources say marijuana is a therapeutic benefit for just about everything, including easing the nausea suffered by cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, reducing the symptoms of people with multiple sclerosis, arthritis, epilepsy and a wide range of other conditions.

The medical virtues of marijuana are still being studied and debated, however, which is why many doctors are reluctant to authorize its use. The other problem, according to the college, is there's no way to be sure patients wouldn't abuse the drug, but that's true of any pharmaceutical.

The college says some doctors will authorize marijuana use, but only in cases where everything else has failed. The medical profession should demand more research from Health Canada and the country's universities.

Too many Canadians have reported positive results from marijuana use for it to be dismissed as a drug of last resort.

As the use of marijuana for medical purposes increases in Canada and around the world, doctors will find they can no longer ignore the demands of their patients, even though that is exactly what they fear.

The most sensible thing to do, however, is to legalize the weed so that those who believe in its therapeutic value can use it without having to beg their doctor for assistance or worry about the long arm of the law.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 23, 2014 A12

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