Schizophrenia Society of Saskatoon warns doctors of marijuana risk
May 22, 2004
Lana Haight -- The StarPhoenix

Doctors should be wary when asked to prescribe medical marijuana, says the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan.

"Marijuana is detrimental to someone who has schizophrenia. It's a bad mix," said Kathleen Thompson, executive director of the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan.

The society has written the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan urging doctors to be sure their patients do not have a history of schizophrenia prior to prescribing medical marijuana.

"Members of our society reported that their ill relatives have been hinting at their interest to seek out medical specialists in an effort to have marijuana prescribed for their chronic pain," wrote Grant Rathwell, then-president of the society.

"Since many of these consumers can be very persuasive and manipulative, we felt that we should make you and your members aware in the event that some of these persons whose medical history is unknown to your members come shopping around for such prescriptions."

Thompson says many people with schizophrenia are addicted to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their illness.

Finding a doctor to prescribe marijuana would justify their smoking it and they would have one less thing to worry about because they couldn't be charged with possessing the drug.

But their addictions come with a price, Thompson says.

"If they smoke marijuana regularly, chronically, it's much more challenging for them to manage the illness."

As well, the illness can be triggered if someone who is unaware they have a genetic predisposition for schizophrenia smokes marijuana, she says.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan included an excerpt from the society's letter in one of its newsletters sent to doctors throughout the province.

Dr. Karen Shaw, deputy registrar of the college, calls the issue of medical marijuana "a hot potato." She says people with schizophrenia aren't the only ones who may be looking for a prescription for marijuana.

"There is a population out there that is going to find something to try and get access to medical marijuana which will decrease the problem they have accessing it and the risk of a criminal record," she said.

Shaw says the federal government guidelines for prescribing medical marijuana include palliative care patients expected to die within 12 months, people with illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, those who suffer from seizures and people who experience chronic pain.

"Sometimes it's not easy to diagnose chronic pain conditions," she said.

The college expects doctors to use medical marijuana as a last resort after all other options have been tried and found to be ineffective.

Shaw says the lack of research and medical trials of medical marijuana is troubling, and doctors don't fully understand what the long-term implications are of taking medical marijuana.