Medical Cannabis helps, but stigma remains

THUNDER BAY—Medical cannabis is proven to help with a wide range of debilitating symptoms, but there’s still a stigma attached, despite legalization.

“People are still in the olden days, thinking it’s a bad drug. I was brought up that way,” explained Brenda, 62, who has been using medical cannabis for pain relief from severe arthritis.

She started taking medical marijuana three years ago, a move which she said enabled her to get off some of the drugs she had been using. “Those drugs were hard on my liver and stomach,” she said. “Medical cannabis helps me live.”

She grows the strain recommended by the Rainy River Cannabis Collective (RRCC) medical practitioner for her particular symptoms, and now makes her own edibles. “I can make over 100 gummies in about half an hour.”

Fred, a professional in his 30s, also remarked on the stigma. “I have a good job, I work out every day, and I try to change opinion. People flat out reject it as medicine,” he said. Fred, who didn’t use or like cannabis in his youth, now uses it to control anxiety and help with his insomnia. “I was on six different meds. They affected my memory, my reflexes. Some were really bad.”

Desperate for an alternative to medications he would otherwise have to take for the rest of his life, Fred contacted the now-1800-member Rainy River Cannabis Collective when it opened on January 2017 in his hometown of Fort Frances, where the medical practitioner on staff examined his records and prescribed the type of cannabis that would work for him. He now uses only medical cannabis.

“When I got into cannabis therapy with Rainy River, they were all really involved with my treatment. It was like walking into “Cheers.” I felt accepted and welcomed. The doctor recommended a couple of [cannabis] strains that really help me. A heavy indica helps me sleep at night,” he said.

“I’m one of those nerds, if I’m going to put something in my body, I’m going to learn a lot about it,” said Fred, who not only grows his own product but also makes his own oil. He noted that “I’d never grown anything in my entire life, and at first, I was texting Brad once a week.” Brad Olson, RRCC’s grow expert, offers grow tips and support to all RRCC clients.

Charles, a Kenora science professional in his 40s now on disability due to malignant diverticulitis, a rare and deadly disease, blames the stigma around medical cannabis on “old knowledge and ignorance.

“I was dying when they took out a section of my bowel, and I herniated everywhere. My insides are basically held together with surgical mesh.” After one of his surgeries, Charles went into shock for a day and a half, which triggered fibromyalgia, another debilitating condition. He’s on a regimen of medication, but medical cannabis has helped him get rid of five of his meds, and because he grows his own medicine, he’s paying a lot less at the pharmacy. One of his favourite ways to take his medicine? “I throw fresh frozen bud into a smoothie.”

Betty, another Rainy River client, swears by juicing. “I have chronic pain and am permanently disabled. My doc had me on about a million drugs.” After a medical consultation with Rainy River, Betty started using cannabis. “The RRCC doc recommended juicing. I would never have thought of it. I put in the whole plant—sticks, leaves, everything—so I get the medical effects but not the high. I’m now down to two of the drugs plus cannabis and my muscle spasms are almost gone. The [RRCC] clinic walked me through the whole process, and it changed my life, even helping a lot mentally. Before, pain always dominated my thoughts.”

Although medical cannabis is credited with helping to lift the mental “fog” and reduce adverse effects caused by many pharmaceutical medications, including antidepressants, anti-psychotics, opioids, and benzodiazepines, and relieving a multitude of symptoms like hypertension, dyslipidemia and hypoglycemia, chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression, weight gain and psychosomatic pain associated with various health conditions, Rainy River Cannabis Collective owner Angela Olson said that 40% of RRCC clients grow and take medical cannabis for sleep issues. “Cancer, pain, sleep and anxiety are the big four, with insomnia the main one,” said Olson, who, along with her husband, Brad, started the business after finding that cannabis helped alleviate their own health symptoms.

Rainy River Cannabis Collective, celebrating its 3rdanniversary this month, is now based in Thunder Bay, where it offers medical consultations and prescriptions via telemedicine along with growing tips and supplies and help with all the paperwork associated with Health Canada regulations for patients growing their own cannabis medicine.

Client names have been changed to protect privacy.