September 30, 2014
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Medical marijuana

Marijuana (also known as cannabis) is a hemp plant. The flowers and leaves of the plant contain a chemical known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes the effects felt with marijuana use. It is the THC that is sought after for various medical applications.

What are the effects of marijuana?

Marijuana produces many effects within the body. Some of the most notable are:

  • psychological and cognitive effects such as euphoria (commonly referred to as a "high"), dysphoria (a "low"), anxiety, personality changes, hallucinations, misperceptions, sedation, and memory impairment
  • pain relief
  • suppression of nausea and increased appetite
  • decrease in blood pressure (because of widened blood vessels; it is this effect that causes red eyes)
  • smoke-related lung damage (with long-term use)

What's the status of medical marijuana in Canada?

In Canada, possession of medical marijuana is controlled under the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations, which came into effect in the summer of 2001. The regulations allow people with severe diseases to use marijuana to relieve their symptoms when the usual treatments for these conditions have failed.

However, marijuana continues to be an illegal drug in Canada.

Who can qualify to use marijuana for medical purposes? How do I apply?

Health Canada outlines the following two categories of individuals who may qualify to use marijuana medically.

Category 1: This category applies to those who suffer from specific symptoms of a serious illness where usual therapies have failed. These symptoms include:

  • severe pain or muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis, a spinal cord injury, or disease
  • severe pain, inability to eat, severe nausea, weight loss, and malnutrition from cancer or HIV/AIDS infection
  • severe pain from severe forms of arthritis
  • epilepsy seizures

Category 2: This category applies to those who have serious medical conditions and are experiencing symptoms that are not outlined in category 1 where usual treatments have failed.

You must apply to Health Canada's Marihuana Medical Access Division (MMAD). A medical specialist must complete and sign a medical declaration (an application form) indicating your symptoms and the dosage of marijuana being prescribed. If you are authorized to use medical marijuana, you will be issued an identification card that must be presented to police on request.

Is marijuana addictive?

It can be. It's important to know that inappropriate use of marijuana can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Physical dependence means that when a person stops using the substance, they develop withdrawal symptoms. Medical trials have shown dependence after taking high doses of marijuana. Withdrawal symptoms are usually mild and include disturbed sleep, decreased appetite, restlessness, irritability, and sweating.

Physical dependence is not the same as addiction. Addiction is a psychological need for the drug that leads to cravings, inability to control drug use, and an uncontrollable need to use the drug despite the harm it may cause. Whether or not someone becomes addicted to marijuana will depend on a variety of factors, such as genetics.

Where can I find more information?

For more information on the regulations or to obtain application forms, visit Health Canada's Marihuana Medical Access Division at www.hc-sc.gc.ca. You can also write to the Marihuana Medical Access Division, Drug Strategy and Controlled Substances Programme, Health Canada, Address Locator 3503B, Ottawa ON K1A 1B9.


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