Medical Marijuana: Smoke and Mirrors or Valid Health Plan Coverage?

By Martin Eising, Inc.

Aurora, ON (Apr. 19, 2018) – A hot topic of discussion these days is the issue of medical marijuana. Opinions on marijuana and its effectiveness treating various diseases and medical conditions vary widely. Some people say it can be used to effectively treat all sorts of health conditions, while others completely dismiss these claims as pure fantasy that is not based on scientific studies.

One thing beyond dispute, however, is that more and more doctors are hearing from patients who are interested in trying out medical marijuana in order to help with a medical condition they have. This is especially true when it comes to chronic pain management.

And who can blame a person for being interested in using medical marijuana to manage their chronic pain, especially if they are currently using opioids for that purpose?

Knowledge is power they say, so before rushing to judgement on this contentious issue let’s first look at the reasons why marijuana may have medical properties.

Marijuana Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System

Around 25 years ago scientists discovered a system in the brain called the “endocannabinoid system”1. The endocannabinoid system is affected by the chemical compounds found in cannabis (another name for marijuana), and it plays a role in many of the bodies key functions (for example, the heart along with the reproductive, nervous and immune systems).

It was this discovery of the endocannabinoid system that prompted interest in marijuana for possible medical properties. Seems logical, doesn’t it? Marijuana affects a system in the brain which, in turn, affects many of the critical processes in our bodies.

But what is it in marijuana that affects this endocannabinoid system?

Simply put, the answer to that question is “cannabinoids”. Marijuana has over 113 different types of cannabinoids, all of which are active compounds that affect the endocannabinoid system.2

Marijuana’s best know cannabinoid is THC, the chemical that makes people feel high. It also contains CBD, which stands for cannabidiol. CBD has no psychoactive properties, and is reported to be an anti-inflammatory as well as having neuroprotective properties.

Other major cannabinoids found in marijuana are CBN (cannabinol), CBC (cannabichromene) and CBG (cannabigerol), just to name a few.

Medicinal Properties of Cannabis

There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence which indicates that marijuana has significant medicinal properties.

The amount of hard evidence for this available via clinical studies, however is limited.3

Is it possible that marijuana’s medical properties have been exaggerated by some people? Absolutely it is.

Having said this, though, it is important to know that very few large-scale clinical studies have actually been done on marijuana’s medical properties.

Cannabis is an illegal substance in many countries, and its illegal status acts as a deterrent when it comes to clinical testing. To test marijuana in the USA requires prior approval by the FDA, amongst other things. There are lots of hoops to jump through long before any trials begin!

An excellent study entitled “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base” was published via the NCBI (National Center for Biology Information), a well-respected part of the US National Library of Medicine.4 This study examined various studies done regarding pot’s medicinal properties and is an excellent starting point for anyone who wants more information regarding marijuana testing that has been accomplished so far. Of particular interest in this report is the following statement: “In conclusion, the available evidence from animal and human studies indicates that cannabinoids can have a substantial analgesic (pain killing) effect.”.

Keeping all of this in mind, here is a listing of medicinal properties that have been associated with marijuana (as per the Harvard Medical School)5:

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) extract has been reported by patients to relieve anxiety, insomnia, pain and epilepsy. Note that CBD extract does not have THC in it, which is the component in pot that results in euphoria.
  • A particular type of childhood epilepsy called “Dravet syndrome” has been virtually impossible to treat via conventional methods. However, people with Dravet syndrome respond very favourably to a CBD-dominant strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web.
  • Acts as an analgesic for chronic pain, especially chronic pain associated with aging.
  • Marijuana seems to ease pain caused by multiple sclerosis in a manner that allows the MS patient to resume daily activities. Opioids used to treat this pain have a sedating effect, which results in a groggy state of mind.
  • It has been used to treat nausea, weight loss and glaucoma.
  • Veterans and other people with severe PTSD have reported that marijuana usage has resulted in massive improvements in their day-to-day living.
  • Marijuana has been reported to help with pain management associated with HIV.
  • It may also help patients suffering from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and Crohn’s Disease.

Canadian Medical Marijuana Regulations

In August of 2016 Health Canada announced the new Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), which replaced the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR).

As per the ACMPR6, qualified Canadians can purchase medical marijuana from a licensed producer. Alternatively, these Canadians are also allowed to grow small amounts for themselves or have someone grow it for them on their behalf.

To qualify for medial marijuana a Canadian must first get a recommendation from a fully qualified healthcare professional.

To be able to grow cannabis for medical purposes you must first apply for a permit. If approved you will receive a certificate that indicates how many plants you can grow as well as the number of grams of dried marijuana you can have in your possession. For more information please see:

To be able to buy marijuana for medical purposes you must first get a document from a licensed medical professional such as a doctor. After this is done go to a licensed producer and register with them. Once you are registered with the producer they can supply you with fresh or dried marijuana, or even cannabis oil. For more information please see:

Ramifications of Marijuana Legalization in Canada

Bill C-457, otherwise known as the Cannabis Act, is now in its second reading in the Canadian senate. This bill will determine the Canadian laws governing the possession and use of recreational marijuana.

As the bill currently stands, there will continue to be a separate system in place for the cultivation and use of medical cannabis in Canada. The task force involved with this bill, however, recommends that the laws regarding medical marijuana be reviewed within 5 years of the passing of Bill C-45.

It would be easy to assume that these new recreational laws would be beneficial to Canadians using medical marijuana. However, this may not actually be the case. In November of 2017 the Canadian federal government proposed an excise/sin tax to be levied on both non-medical and medical cannabis after it is legalized, thereby driving up the costs of purchasing marijuana for medicinal reasons.

Canadian Private Health Insurance and Medicinal Marijuana Coverage

Currently there are no individual health insurance plans that offer coverage for medical marijuana in Canada. This is due to the fact that all drugs to be covered by personal health and dental insurance must first have a drug identification number, otherwise referred to as DIN.

A DIN is given to a drug that has been approved under the Canada Food and Drugs Act as safe to use and is assigned via the Therapeutic Products Directorate (a branch of Health Canada).

Employee benefits, however, can offer coverage for medical marijuana via self-insured benefit plans such as Health Spending Accounts.

Currently there is only one insurance company offering medical marijuana benefits, that being Sun Life Financial.

As of March 1, 2018, Sun Life plan administrators can now request that medical marijuana be added to their coverage.

Prior approval must first be granted by Sun Life and not all medical conditions will be eligible for medical marijuana treatment.

Conditions that are eligible are as follows:

  • Cancer with severe refractory pain.
  • Nausea caused by some other medical treatment.
  • Multiple sclerosis patients with spasticity or neuropathic pain.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis that has not responded favourably to standard treatments and is causing the person pain.
  • People with AIDS/HIV who are anorexic or suffer from neuropathic pain.
  • Patients who are in palliative care.

In order to qualify an employee must also be registered with the ACMPR program. In addition, plan administrators can choose the yearly coverage maximum ($1,500 to $6,000 per person per year).

If you are interested in a Sun Life employee benefits plan you can contact us here at, or you can submit a group insurance quote request online at your convenience.


1. Medical Marijuana: What the Research Shows (Medscape) [Can’t log in? Read locally].

2. List of Major Cannabinoids in Cannabis and Their Effects (

3. Research lacking on benefits of medical marijuana: doctors’ groups (Globe and Mail).

4. The Medical Value of Marijuana and Related Substances (National Center for Biotechnology Information).

5. Medical marijuana (Harvard Health Blog).

6. Medical Use of Cannabis (

7. Bill C-45, The Cannabis Act: Marijuana Legalization and Regulation in Canada (

About Inc. is a licensed insurance brokerage that has been insuring Canadians since 1981. They strive to make it as easy as possible for Canadians to get health insurance (employee benefits and individual health and dental plans), travel insurance and disability insurance plans online.

Source: Inc.

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