17 November 2016
Q&A: Island Health sets rules for medical marijuana in hospitals
Vancouver Island hospitals make cautious accommodation for prescription pot use
Island Health has adopted detailed guidelines for the use of medical marijuana by hospital patients on Vancouver Island. (CBC News)
The nurses aren’t dispensing “purple kush” or Island “sweet skunk” with the evening meds. But hospitals on Vancouver Island are making way for medical marijuana use by patients.
Dr. Richard Jones, the director of Pharmacy Services with Island Health, helped to draft guidelines for medical marijuana use in health facilities.
He spoke with On the Island host Gregor Craigie about the rules and the challenges for patients and health providers.
How many patients have wanted to use marijuana in hospitals?
We’ve had a couple at this point in time in our acute services. We’ve had several in our residential care service.
Royal Jubilee Hospital, Victoria. Patients who smoke medical marijuana must follow the same rules as tobacco smokers and do it outdoors, away from entrances to the building. (Google Street View)
Have you been able to accommodate them?
Yes and no. We all have anti-smoking policies, so the way in which the person consumes it is the issue that has affected the cases we’ve had so far.
If a patient has a prescription for it when they come into the hospital, and the admitting physician wants to maintain that therapy, then we have policy that will enable that to happen.
Only government-licensed pot allowed
There are some challenges … marijuana is still an illegal substance in Canada. That being said, we do have marijuana-for-medical-purposes legislation federally and that provides some guidance.
One of the key points of that guidance is that the patient and the Health-Canada-licensed producer-dealer must be the connection for sourcing and dispensing the prescription.
If that’s not the case, then the marijuana …. is not acceptable in a hospital.
What if a patient has it from a non-Health-Canada-licensed dealer but with a legitimate medical prescription?
That’s not a legal category, therefore it’s not acceptable in the hospital.
How can it be consumed?
The federal law allows for dried bud, green plant, as well as oils. They can be eaten. They can be vaporized in certain circumstances. They can be applied topically.
Cannabis oils, as well as dried bud and green plants, are permitted under Island Health’s policy for medical marijuana in hospitals. (Canadian Press)
Can patients smoke it?
All of our normal smoking policies would have to be upheld.
If somebody who is a patient today wishes to smoke a regular cigarette, they have to go outside a certain distance from the entrance to the buildings in order to have that cigarette.
What happens when the government changes marijuana laws in the spring of 2017?
We’re all anxiously awaiting that … the current legislation is difficult to work with and its predecessor legislation versions are also difficult to work with in a clinical sense.
We also know that various regulated health profession colleges have provided guidance and counsel to their licensed professions … nurses, pharmacists, physicians and so on.
That creates some challenges in the present day because some of the colleges don’t see their members being involved with any marijuana for any reason at this point.
What concerns are there about security and where to keep the marijuana in the hospital?
Right now with our existing policy, we treat it as a patient’s own property. But because it is a controlled substance in Canada, we keep it in a locked location so that it’s secure, and the patient has access to that.
What we do ask is because it’s pharmacologically active and it affects treatment of the patient, we’d like to know how much and when the patient is using it and so we provide some documentation tools for that purpose.