Why Are Medical Marijuana Patient Registrations on the Rise?

byAlanaArmstrong4 minutes

Health Canada, the government body overseeing Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) and the licensed producers (LPs) who grow marijuana for the medical market, has released its latest statistics for medical cannabis that includes some surprising information—an increase in patient enrolments.

The agency's newest market data for medical cannabis shows a continued increase in patients signing up for the program, despite the fact that the pending changes to legislation will make it legal for adults to purchase marijuana—no registration required.

ACMPR Registration by the Numbers

Canadian registrations to purchase medical cannabis jumped from 75,166 in June 2016 to more than 200,000 in June of 2017 and then to 235,621 by September. It's important to note that there can be more than one active registration per Canadian cannabis patient so this doesn’t necessarily equate to the number of medical marijuana users.

Before Health Canada introduced the system of LPs, it estimated that 450,000 Canadians would be signed up for medical cannabis by 2024. In the first quarter of 2018, that projection is looking more realistic than ever.

Why the Increase of Medicinal Cannabis Registrants Doesn't Make Sense

To date, there are only a handful of quantitative studies that have been done, examining the efficacy of marijuana for specific conditions. The best available clinical trials support the use of cannabinoids for pain caused by nerve damage if standard treatments have failed. Due to the dearth of clinical trials on cannabis’s efficacy, herbal cannabis has yet to be “approved” as medicine by Canada.

Other reasons why a rise in ACMPR numbers is baffling include:

  • Medical cannabis producers were caught using illegal pesticides and fungicides.
  • The fact that obtaining a doctor's recommendation can be a long process of doctor’s visits and other consultations.
  • Medicinal marijuana will be taxed at the same level as recreational cannabis—so it won’t be any cheaper. Conventional medicines are tax-free and usually covered by a health-care plan if the patient has opted into one.

Possible Reasons Why ACMPR Numbers Are Climbing

There are, however, a few reasons that Canadians are persistent in their choice of medicinal marijuana bought directly from an LP through the ACMPR.

Reason 1: Doctors are more comfortable recommending marijuana

Doctors becoming more comfortable with prescribing cannabis, coupled with growing patient demand is one reason for the consistently increasing registrations. That said, it's not as easy to obtain a physician's recommendation for marijuana as some think. Plenty of physicians still won't prescribe medicinal marijuana for depression and anxiety even though both diagnoses appear on the official list of qualifying conditions.

Patients approved to use cannabis medicinally must return to their doctor every three months to renew the recommendation. They have to travel to a clinic, provide a urine sample and spend some time post-checkup registering their prescription with an LP. It's only through a clinic that they may register with their chosen LP; any changes to this arrangement takes another clinic visit.

Despite the apparent hassle, patients gain access to more than just medicinal cannabis through this system. They have a knowledgeable doctor who’s familiar with their medical history and current prescription regimen in case drug interactions are a factor. The doctor-patient relationship is invaluable to many ACMPR registrants, and provincial health care covers each visit.

Reason 2: ACMPR allows Canadians to grow more cannabis

According to the Health Canada report, 11,640 Canadians are now authorized to cultivate cannabis for medical purposes. Personal grows account for 10,916 of these authorizations, while another 724 are designated to produce for another Canadian. In August alone, 3,212 applications for personal cultivation licenses were processed, followed by 2,925 in September.

The average amount of cannabis prescribed to patients per day is 2.5 grams, which requires 13 indoor plants to produce, according to Health Canada’s online calculator.

At the absolute highest end of the spectrum, a patient's cannabis cultivation could go up to 273 indoor plants if their daily dosage is prescribed at 56 grams (2 oz) or more per day. Under the recreational cannabis act, most Canadians are only allowed four plants.

Quebec and Manitoba are the only provinces where recreational marijuana users aren’t allowed to cultivate home cannabis gardens. And while it would make sense to see a jump in medical marijuana registrants in those two provinces, it’s Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia with the surging numbers of ACMPR applications.

Ultimately, the growing interest in medical marijuana may not be related to recreational cannabis at all. The increasing awareness among patients of the possible benefits of medical marijuana, along with the comfort of obtaining it legally and having access to a professional opinion on how to use it, is undoubtedly appealing.

Photo credit: Helloquence