More MS news articles for Nov 2001

Prescribing marijuana called bad for doctors

Little knowledge of risks

November 13, 2001
Sharon Kirkey
Ottawa Citizen

Medical marijuana may be legal, but that doesn't mean it's accessible.

Canadian doctors have been warned they could expose themselves to liability or professional misconduct complaints if they prescribe marijuana without "detailed knowledge" of the drug's risks and benefits as well as the appropriate dosage.

The Canadian Medical Protective Association says information about prescribing marijuana "simply is not available," making it nearly impossible for the vast majority of doctors to comply with new federal regulations for medicinal marijuana.

"Given the consequences ... physicians will want to be very careful when determining whether to assist a patient in making an application under these regulations," the CMPA says in a three-page information letter being mailed to 60,000 doctors across the country.

The insurance group represents about 95% of doctors practising in Canada. Dr. John Gray, its secretary treasurer and chief executive, said the directive means patients will likely "either have difficulty finding a doctor to complete the forms or difficulty accessing the appropriate specialists."

In a letter to Allan Rock, the federal Health Minister, the CMPA says the new regulations "place an unacceptable burden on member physicians to inform themselves as to the effectiveness of medical marijuana in each patient's case, as well as the relative risks and benefits of the drug and what dosage would be appropriate.

"This information simply is not available," Dr. Gray writes. "Given the fact that many physicians would not have the necessary knowledge about the effectiveness, risks or benefits of marijuana, we believe it is unreasonable to make physicians gatekeepers in this process."

The new regulations, which came into force this summer, allow patients with chronic or terminal illnesses to apply to Health Canada for permission to use marijuana.

But the CMPA warns that before doctors could agree the benefits outweigh the risks, as demanded by the regulations, they would need "detailed knowledge of the effectiveness of marijuana for the patient's particular condition."

In an interview, Dr. Gray said that puts most doctors "in an impossible situation." He said "little or no" scientific evidence exists about the use of medical marijuana for various medical conditions, or the risks to patients.

That dearth of research, he said, could leave doctors "very vulnerable to either a future lawsuit or a complaint to a licensing authority. The CMPA is urging doctors to proceed with "extreme caution."

It's been estimated that as many as 400,000 Canadians use marijuana for medical purposes.

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