We need a War on Pain not Pot


George Clooney


“A nationwide survey found 53 percent of us don’t believe chronic pain exists. On the other hand, an Angus Reid Poll found 70 percent of us believe that there is intelligent life on other planets (and 54 percent think extraterrestrials have already paid us a visit). So…aliens from outer space? Sure. Chronic pain? No way.”

Sydney Loney

The Scary truth about our pain problem

Chatelaine Magazine

Feb. 4th, 2013


Chronic pain is a common complaint among Canadians, occurring in an estimated 30% of the adult population. Despite its high prevalence, only 32% of Canadian medical schools provide formal training in pain management, including training in the safe and effective use of potent analgesics, most notably opioids.

Not surprising that with so much pain and so little medical expertise, Canadians are struggling to find relief any way they can, including thru the maze of medical marijuana options.

According to Health Canada, about half of the 400,000 marihuana users say they use cannabis for medical purposes – mainly for chronic pain caused by arthritis, back pain, migraines, insomnia, depression and anxiety. Complaints of pain are the most common reason we go to our family doctors and to the ER, costing billions every year in health care expenses and lost productivity. Yet we invest far less in educating medical students about pain, than we do in educating veterinarians.

While doctors are doubtless always sympathetic to their patients pain and suffering, most are also skeptical and uncertain about how to advise patients who prefer to use medicinal marijuana for relief.

Safe and consistent access is a real problem

“We’re trying to treat marijuana as much like any other type of medicine as possible. A lot of patients out there who are potential candidates for it are having difficulty accessing this.” 

Dr. Danial Schecter


According to at least one recent study, the Cannabis Access for Medical Purposes Study (CAMPS), funded by the UBC Institute for Healthy Living and Chronic Disease Prevention, many seriously ill Canadians are choosing to access medical marijuana of unknown safety though an illegal market rather than participating in a program they deem cumbersome and ineffective, suggesting that safe and consistent access to medical marijuana is a real problem. 

Canadians and our doctors are part of the gradual social transformation away from decades of stigma and marginalization about cannabis and moving towards an evidence-informed understanding of the risks and benefits.

Canadian public is voting with its feet

While much of the media attention has focused on the debate within the Canadian medical community about more and better research and guidelines, and the questionable marketing practices the new medical marijuana sector is porting over from the pharma sector, the Canadian public is voting with its feet in favor of medical marijuana.

Galvanizing the Medical Marijuana Movement in Canada

What medical marijuana patients and healthcare providers and the industry have in common, and may not yet recognize, is more powerful than what separates them. The common goal is relief of pain. The unifying power is a passionate commitment to relieve unnecessary suffering, improve and apply knowledge, and finally, wherever appropriate to reduce use of opiate-based painkillers. These goals should be clearly articulated in a comprehensive Canadian Pain Strategy – a strategy that’s been circling the drain for several years, in need of a both a business plan for goverments to implment and a compelling advocacy effort.

The War on Pain

As Globe and Mail policy reporter, Andre Picard said:

“We pay far too little attention to the effectiveness of medications used for legitimate purposes like pain control. At the same time, we fret incessantly about drug abuse while doing virtually nothing to prevent or treat addiction. Worse yet, we behave as if these challenges are somehow unrelated when, in fact, they are intricately linked.

The OxyContin story (OxyContin alone kills an estimated 1,000 people a year in Canada) is a prime example of this public-policy hash and underscores the crying need for a plan, a strategy. We need a War on Pain a lot more than we need a War on Drugs.”

Picard is right. But right now, it’s a war in need of champions.

The medical marijuana industry in Canada is in the process of figuring out who all the relevant stakeholders are and how to segment markets, build demand, differentiate companies and build their businesses.

Call to Arms for the National Pain Strategy

In picking up on the Call to Arms for the National Pain Strategy, I’m offering some advice to the medical marijuana industry sector from a steely-eyed veteran of a thousand advocacy campaigns.

  1. When you position your brand as a throw back to “Wayne’s World” and the “stoner culture era” or make exaggerated claims about being a pharmaceutical company you’re flaunting the rules and disrespecting public opinion. Play with your reputation and your chances of surviving in a competitive market will be crushed.
  1. Decide if you’re in the business to serve the best interests of Canadians right now. Then bring your business story and values to life through a core set of programs or initiatives that primarily focus on what your company stands for that brings added value to Canadians beyond just your products/services.
  1. Stop playing fast and loose with the rules. Right now the only legitimate market is the medical marijuana market. Help to build demand for excellence in pain control – the primary reason Canadians give for using medical marijuana – by demonstrating your company’s understanding and support for a comprehensive National Pain Strategy that will include advancing understanding about the risks and benefits of medical marijuana.

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