We see more and more people in our clinics reporting to us that they are using cannabis products.says Cheryl Sadowski, professor in the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Alberta.
It is more and more frequent, she says, because since recreational cannabis was legalized in 2018, it is available without a prescription.
This is where the idea for the study she will co-lead came from.
Arthritis is a term which groups together more than 100 diseases characterized by the inflammation of the joints and other parts of the body can be read on the Arthritis Society website. This affects one in five Canadians.
All forms of arthritis cause pain and to combat this pain people will sometimes use cannabis., explains Cheryl Sadowski.
People with arthritis can also develop sleep disorders, anxiety or depression, which they will fight against by also using cannabis, she says.
Judith Tresidder, 71, has suffered from arthritis for about 30 years, in addition to other health problems.
I have very bad headaches almost every day. I also have neck pain and a burning sensation that goes down one of my arms, she says. It also affects my lower back and because of it I have trouble walking.
It is certain that this has repercussions on my quality of life. I spend a lot of time dealing with the pain.
For over 10 years, she took pain medication in combination with fentanyl. However, she constantly had to increase the dosage of the latter. So a few years ago, she decided to replace the opioid with medical cannabis.
I got the same level of relief as with fentanyl, she says. But I continue to have very intense pain every day.
There are many people who use cannabis and find that it improves their condition or pain management., points out Sian Bevan, Scientific Director of The Arthritis Society.
Efficiency to be demonstrated
But, in reality, she adds, we need to do more research to understand exactly how cannabis works, to understand, like any other drug, what type works, on which patient, when to take it. , when it is not necessary.
There is some preliminary research that tells us that in some patients it might help relieve pain., confirme Cheryl Sadowski.
At this time, we are unable to tell patients which product to use and how often based on their symptoms.
Judith Tresidder recounts that when she first visited a medical cannabis clinic, no one was able to answer her questions regarding possible interactions with her other medications or dosage, for example.
I was told to start low and increase until I reach the level of relief I want, she relates. She says she found it scary.
Cheryl Sadowski is also concerned that some patients who decide to use cannabis on their own will stop taking their prescribed medication. Now these are drugs
that have been proven, that have been researched, she recalls.
Not only do they relieve pain, but they help prevent damage to the joints.
This summer, a multidisciplinary team from the University of Alberta will therefore launch a two-year study.
A survey will be conducted with people with arthritis in the province. Focus groups will also be organized with patients. Finally, data will be collected from Alberta Health Services, and experts (rheumatologists, physicians and pharmacists from across Canada) will be consulted.
Cheryl Sadowski says the goal is to develop a tool that will help patients determine if cannabis can provide relief. This tool will also be used by health professionals.
On the faculty program
We know that most [des professionnels de la santé] have trouble answering patient questions, deplores Cheryl Sadowski.
To help them, there needs to be more research on cannabis and the topic to be included in curricula for medical and pharmacy students, she says.
We know that many people who are considering medicinal cannabis have a hard time finding a healthcare professional who is willing to talk to them about it.
Judith Tresidder has experienced this. When she told her GP that she had stopped fentanyl and turned to medical cannabis, she felt that she disapproved of her choice. She admitted that she knew nothing about it, adds Ms. Tresidder, who nevertheless left with a referral to go to a specialized clinic.
A few weeks ago, Judith Tresidder finally found a doctor who agreed to accompany her in her cannabis consumption. For her, this is a huge relief.
Cheryl Sadowski would like to reiterate that cannabis is a legal product and people who use it should not be stigmatized. It is important that they do not hide their consumption from their doctor or pharmacist, especially if they are taking other medications.
Sian Bevan, for his part, emphasizes the difference between medicinal and recreational cannabis. For people with arthritis, it’s important that cannabis is prescribed by a healthcare professional, she concludes.