Dr. Michael Verbora on treating patients with cannabis

From patient fears to overcoming stigma, Dr. Verbora describes his work as a specialist in cannabinoid medicine

When completing my family medicine residency training with the University of Toronto I took an interest in a new clinic that focused on cannabinoid therapy. I did an elective at this clinic and met several patients who had tremendous outcomes with medical cannabis compared to more traditional therapy. I was so impressed with what I saw that I decided I wanted to be a part of it, and later joined the clinic as a practicing physician.

We have a wide range of patients receiving cannabinoid therapy, from children as young as 12 months to our oldest patient who is 102 years old. Typically, our older patients tend to be more nervous about being prescribed medical cannabis. They’re confused as to why this is a medicine when they were also told it was a drug in the past. On the other hand, we also get some patients who have, unfortunately, been illegally medicating for their condition. So we do a lot of education to explain exactly what we’re doing, and why.

Calming patient fears and misconceptions

A lot of people think you need to be “high”, or euphoric, to achieve medicinal benefits from cannabis, and that’s not true. At lower, prescribed dosages, you won’t get psychoactive effects. We also treat patients with cannabis-derived cannabidiol, or CBD, which is not psychoactive and is very medicinal for a number of conditions.

Another common misconception is that you have to smoke it, which also isn’t true and we don’t recommend it. We do recommend patients vaporize or use medical cannabis oils so we can really fine-tune and control the exact dose.

People are also fearful that they’ll become addicted or dependent on their cannabinoid therapy. While there’s always the possibility, compared to a number of pharmaceutical or even legalized drugs such as tobacco or alcohol, cannabis has much lower addiction and dependence rates. This misconception is really unfortunate. I have several patients seeing medicinal benefits from cannabis but they’re limiting themselves from achieving the most from their therapy because they don’t want to take it every day, or they don’t want to use it at night to help them sleep. They’re fearful of a negative consequence, even though they’re not experiencing it. This fear also affects my ability to optimize their treatment.

Furthering knowledge among medical professionals

We also do a lot of work to help change perceptions about cannabis in the medical field through education and bringing supportive evidence to light. Given that some physicians were still trained in an older system, where cannabis was viewed as a recreational drug, it can be difficult for them to reevaluate the medicinal properties of the plant. But more and more physicians are becoming open-minded. As they start to prescribe cannabinoid therapies and see how effective they can be, doctors can be more confident that it is very medicinal and perhaps better than other options.

Patients need the right information

For anyone curious about cannabinoid therapy I think it’s important to educate yourself with a reputable source. And if you’re not getting the proper education or knowledge about it, seek it out. We sometimes see consultations just for education purposes just to see if cannabis is an option or not for their condition. You can get a referral from your family doctor or specialist to our clinic and hopefully we can be of service.

I think over the next 5 to 10 years we’re going to look back on things like opiates and benzodiazepines and see those therapies as more stigmatized than cannabis. Through continued education and research, I think we will reach a critical mass where the evidence supporting cannabinoid therapy will be too big to counteract. It’s coming.

- By Dr. Michael Verbora, as told to Colleen Fisher Tully


Dr. Michael Verbora is medical director at the Cannabinoid Medical Clinic. He’s also one of the stars of our Faces of Cannabis campaign, which celebrates the diversity of the cannabis community. Want to join him? Post your story and a photo of yourself on social media with the hashtag #facesofcannabis for a chance to win a Pax 3 vaporizer, and be sure to join us at the Toronto Lift Cannabis Expo this May 26 – 28.

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