On a mission to change how family doctors view medical marijuana

From the archives: This article was originally published July 30, 2015

For the past year and a half, David Hepburn has been travelling Canada, educating his fellow family doctors on why and when to prescribe medical marijuana. Speaking at conferences, sometimes sponsored by the commercial growers licensed by Health Canada, Dr. Hepburn runs through the history of cannabis prohibition and the research that has been done on the plant. He says he is trying to change the minds of a medical establishment loath to endorse a drug that has vast amounts of anecdotal evidence, but scant clinical trials, to support its use. He said cannabis can be a suitable medicine for patients suffering migraines, nerve-related pain, neurodegenerative conditions, such as MS, and symptoms such as insomnia or anxiety.

In an interview, he describes his efforts to change how many Canadian doctors – gatekeepers for the federal medical marijuana system – view the drug.

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Why did you first become involved in prescribing cannabis about a decade ago?

I was in the group that wanted nothing to do with cannabis, and it actually came from a physician [friend] in Ontario whose mother had cancer. He phoned me up and said, ‘My mom is in Victoria, she is an octogenarian, cancer-stricken and her doctor won’t help her. My mom would never miss a tax date or jaywalk, and yet the one thing that’s helped her with both her pain and her chemo-related symptoms is cannabis.’ And would I help her out? Finally I capitulated and said, ‘Okay, I will help her apply for the [federal medical marijuana] program.’

I began to explore more into that and I watched this sort of explosion I guess the same way [American neurosurgeon and media personality] Sanjay

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