A medical marijuana clinic that opened this spring in downtown Sudbury has experienced a steady influx of clients in its first three months.
“We’ve received hundreds of referrals for patients,” said Ronan Levy, director of Canadian Cannabis Clinics. “Last I checked, about a week ago, we were up to about 300 patient referrals.”
Not all of those referred patients have been prescribed medical marijuana, he said, in part because the clinic is only open on certain days and “it takes a while to ramp up, as we get new physicians on board.”
But it’s been encouraging to know there’s a role for his organization – which also has clinics in 16 other Ontario cities – in Sudbury, Levy said.
“I would say it’s a typical response for an average clinic, adding about 100 patients a month,” he said. “But I guess it’s uniquely surprising in that Sudbury tends to be one of the smaller metropolitan centres that we’re in, so in that respect the growth has been exceeding what we normally see in our clinics.”
Levy said he believes the strong uptake speaks to a number of circumstances. “I think it’s reflective of the health needs of the community, but also changing attitudes toward cannabis and the fact that the people are seeing a lot of positive results from cannabis,” he said.
The clinics director said his organization has invested significantly in educational sessions for doctors, including one held in Sudbury shortly after the new clinic opened.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about cannabis among physicians, because it just kind of got dropped on their plate, and we want to provide some degree of understanding because we are primarily a referral-based clinic,” he said.
“In order to make that work, we need local physicians to feel comfortable that when they refer patients to us we’re providing good-quality, prudent medical care,” said Levy. “If we develop a reputation of being cowboys when it comes to the prescription of medical cannabis, then justifiably those doctors wouldn’t feel comfortable giving a referral.”
The clinic is not the only one facilitating access to medical marijuana in Sudbury. Earlier this summer, a similar service called Bodystream opened an outlet on Paris Street.
Levy said it’s not a surprise that a competitor would materialize. “There are a lot of clinics opening up in different areas,” he said.
He said he feels the demand is there to support more than one clinic in Sudbury and that his stands out in certain ways. “We really pride ourselves on our efforts to be solely focused on cannabis, whereas some companies bleed into other areas and provide massage therapy, weight loss and anti-aging stuff,” he said.
Patients who visit the Canadian Cannabis Clinics site are assessed by an international medical graduate – a doctor trained in another country – as well as physicians and specialists available via telemedicine. There are also two counsellors on hand to help the patient register with a licensed cannabis producer and learn how to take the drug safely through vaping.
Levy stressed that no marijuana is dispensed through the clinic – it comes by mail, from a provider approved by Health Canada – and not everyone who gets referred will be prescribed medical pot.
“We assess patients on a preliminary basis to see whether cannabis is potentially suitable for them or not,” he said.
The screening looks at whether they have been diagnosed with “a condition for which cannabis may provide a benefit, and whether they have evidence that they’ve tried all conventional treatments,” he said. “If they pass those two thresholds, at that point we will book an appointment for them.”
Levy said his clinics definitely don’t present pot as a solution to all medical woes.
“There are people in the cannabis community who tout cannabis as a panacea that will cure everything from cancer to Crohn’s,” he said. “We don’t do that. There is some pretty good evidence that cannabis can be an effective therapeutic option for certain conditions, like neuropathic pain, but there’s less evidence it can be effective for other things.”
Still, if there’s a sense pot can help with something like Crohn’s or colitis, “it may merit a trial if patients haven’t seen success elsewhere,” he said.
There are “a lot of interesting studies” going on right now, he said, and evidence may yet point to another way medical marijuana can be utilized.
At present, there isn’t sufficient proof that pot can counter cancer itself, but it can be used to treat the side effects of cancer treatment, said Levy.
“If it happens to slow down tumour growth, that’s a wonderful benefit, but that should not be the primary reason by which you are prescribing cannabis,” he said.
He was intrigued, however, to read recently about new research that suggests marijuana can help in the treatment of certain brain tumours.
The preliminary study indicates “a certain cannabinoid in cannabis can enhance the effects of radiation therapy in glioma,” he said. “And that’s particularly interesting because Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip was diagnosed with glioblastoma.”