Canada has certainly come a long way since cannabis prohibition back in the 1920s. However, it wasn’t until recently, some 80 years after prohibition, that Health Canada allowed access to cannabis for medical purposes. Even now in 2019 with legalization, there is still an information gap and negative stigma around cannabis, and as long as it exists it could prevent millions of Canadians from properly treating their chronic pain and ailments.
Medical cannabis use in Canada is indeed rising, which is why it is important to discuss cannabis in the workplace now more than ever. Registered medical cannabis patients in Canada increased from 23,930 in 2015 to over 330,000 in 2018, a 14-times increase in just three years. Health Canada projects that number will increase to 450,000 by 2024.
With the rise of medical cannabis users and the aforementioned information gap in mind, let’s begin by clearing the air around medical cannabis with some facts.
“Medical cannabis patients are not looking to get high. They are looking to get well” - Starseed Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Peter M. Blecher.
Perhaps the most important factor skeptics need to understand is that medical cannabis can play a key role in the treatment of chronic pain. This is especially true when considering the “Chronic Pain Triad”, three interrelated pillars— pain intensity, mental health and wellness, and sleep quality. These three elements make up the basis for most chronic pain. Each of these three elements may contribute to any other two, either in an aggravating or alleviating manner. Traditional management for any of these contributing factors often involves multiple drugs daily, but medical cannabis is said to present an opportunity for individuals to treat all three elements with a single prescription, simplifying and eliminating a potentially dangerous regime of medications. It seems as though Canadian patients and prescribers rely heavily on opioids as their primary form of treatment, but in a 2017 study called Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 80% of patients reported that cannabis by itself was more effective than their opioid treatments.
In terms of cannabis in the workplace, a recent study from Sanofi Canada Healthcare found that 64% of employees with workplace health plans agreed that ‘medical cannabis, when authorized by a physician, should be covered by their health benefit plan’. Despite this and evidence that demonstrates the beneficial use of medical cannabis in place of some prescription drugs (i.e. opioids), approximately only 4% of employers offer coverage for medical cannabis according to the HRPA (Human Resources Professionals Association). It is understood that a common factor impeding the increase in coverage for medical cannabis are regulatory roadblocks. For instance, the federal government has yet to include medical cannabis as an approved drug under the Food and Drugs act – as a result, it does not have a Drug Identification Number (DIN). These numbers, which are issued by Health Canada, which are granted by Health Canada,, indicate that a drug has been evaluated and approved by the government. Until a DIN is established, employers will find it difficult to apply traditional drug coverage for medical cannabis under their existing health benefit plans.
Understanding this treatment was vital for many to live a healthier, happier life without the threat of addiction to harsher prescription drugs like opioids, companies like Starseed Medicinal stepped up to revolutionize the medical cannabis industry. Starseed’s end-to-end service model responds to considerations and concerns from plan sponsors and employers to employees, helping them navigating through the largely uncharted and sometimes overwhelming territory of medical cannabis.
According to Starseed, there are three elements to consider when establishing a modern and sustainable drug-related workplace policy: (1) setting better expectations, (2) reducing risk to the employer and employees and (3) providing a clear line of sight to the parameters of accommodation. Employers are required to provide a safe workplace for employees, which means accommodating their medical needs. On the flip side, employers are concerned that cannabis use at work can lead to impairment and increased risk of injuries or incidents. In response to this, Starseed supports zero tolerance applied appropriately. When discussing zero tolerance, it’s important to make the distinction between zero tolerance of impairment, and zero tolerance of all narcotics, even those that do not cause impairment. Understanding the difference will require further cannabis education for those penning these policies. Something that Starseed has also worked into their model.
As Canada’s acceptance and normalization of cannabis continues to grow and adapt, workplaces will have to grow and adapt as well or fear being left behind as its citizens increasingly work with companies that are arming themselves with policies for not only today but tomorrow and beyond. Those blazing the trail, licensed producers like Starseed and the various partners with whom they stand shoulder-to-shoulder, are the ones working to create the 21st-century workplace during this global movement.