Medical marijuana can be an effective medication when it is properly prescribed. That's the message a B.C. doctor will be giving his fellow physicians on a cross-country speaking tour this month.

Dr. Dave Hepburn, a general practitioner based in Victoria, told On the Island host Gregor Craigie that he will give talks in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Nova Scotia over a five-week period.

Dr. Dave Hepburn

Dr. Dave Hepburn wants to change the stigma around prescribing medical marijuana. (Erich Sadie)

He has been giving similar talks over the past year to a varied audience of general practitioners and specialists, hoping to inform and encourage physicians who may have reservations around prescribing medicinal cannabis.

Dr. Hepburn says marijuana can be used to treat neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia.

Here is more of what Dr. Hepburn had to say:

How did you start using medical marijuana in your own practice?

I used to be as opposed to it as everyone else, but I was also open-minded and I listened to patients. I've learned from these patients — patients who I trust — who come in and they say, 'Doctor, the one thing that does work for me is in fact cannabis', for whatever condition that might be.

After you hear that enough it gets your attention. These are people who are not interested in getting high. They're not interested in recreational use. They're interested in getting help. They're well-informed now too; patients are extremely well-informed of some of the medical benefits of cannabis.

Is it easy to be well-informed about prescribing medical marijuana? Do you have sufficient peer-reviewed data and studies to be able to confidently prescribe cannabis to patients?

I spend a good hour every morning catching up on the scientific literature of cannabis, which is just exploding. It's a real tipping point with all of the things that are occurring globally, for example [CNN chief medical correspondent Dr.] Sanjay Gupta who has apologized for his role in allowing the public to be systematically misled.

CNN

In 2013 CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta apologized for "misleading" the American public about the dangers of marijuana. (Screenshot/CNN)

There's a reason there's been a lack of these really good studies. Marijuana has been classified in the same category of drugs as heroin. Now people are realizing that it is useful. There are some basic concerns physicians have as far as the consistency of doses, and yes, the best studies are yet to come. But they are coming. However there are so many pre-clinical studies and there's case report after case report of the benefits of medical marijuana.

What are your thoughts on the guidelines that have been issued by the various medical colleges urging restraint when it comes to prescribing medical marijuana?

I agree with the college guidelines. What they talk about is the importance of practicing good medicine — to be able to provide longitudinal care for the patient, to do a proper history of the patient, to make sure that there's no substance abuse issues, to make sure they're a certain age, and to document things properly.

Their advice is to make sure physicians are well aware of it as they prescribe it and document it properly.

The three biggest symptoms that are actually addressed regardless of the reason for prescription for cannabis are anxiety, insomnia and pain — that evil triad.

So one of the things we say to physicians in our talk is as you're listening to this, identify in your mind patients who you think would be excellent candidates for this. Because for physicians to really learn about it, they have to really practice it and try it.

We get inundated with drug representatives from different companies all the time and they come in with studies, but the truth is the doctor's real strength is using [prescribing] it after they've tried it with different patients. Then they will know better.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


To hear the full interview click on the audio labelled: Victoria doctor going on Canada-wide speaking tour about medical marijuana