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More palliative care patients should get medical marijuana: doctors

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Canada is in the midst of drawing up guidelines for end-of-life care, but some doctors believe that the medical system isn’t doing enough to offer high-quality pain relief to patients, including the option to use medical marijuana.

Though researchers are learning that cannabis can offer many benefits in pain relief, less than 10 per cent of palliative care patients are able to access the drug, in part because of outdated restrictions that make it hard to access, some doctors say.

Fulvia Mrusek is one patient who is able to use medical marijuana. The 66-year-old Woodbridge, Ont., resident recently learned she has Stage 4 lung cancer that has spread to her bones, despite the fact that she never smoked.

She turned to medical marijuana because the cancer was causing her tremendous pain.

“It felt like the lightning bolts were crossing my back. It would take my breath away,” she said.

When a palliative care doctor suggested to Mrusek she try using medical marijuana in a vapourizer, she admits she was at first skeptical. It fact, the first few times she tried it, it didn’t work for her. But after five attempts, it finally worked.

“I am glad I stuck with it,” she says.

Mrusek now uses marijuana daily at home and says it has given her back her mobility. But not all palliative care patients are as lucky. Mrusek can get marijuana because she is living at home. If she were in a hospital or hospice, it would be a very different story.

Palliative care patients in most hospitals or hospices still can’t use medical marijuana because very few facilities have policies for its use. It can’t easily be prescribed or dispensed because it is not a drug with DIN number. And there are questions about how to use it.

Smoking marijuana is not an option in hospitals or hospices, since such facilities have no-smoking policies. Most also have not yet developed policies on the use of vapourizers or oil.

As one hospital official told CTV News, medical marijuana use in the hospital setting or in palliative units “isn’t even on the radar.”

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