Medical marijuana

Dr. Chris Simpson, incoming president of the Canadian Medical Association, says the new medical marijuana rules make doctors part of a supply chain for a treatment they're not sure is medically valid. (CBC)

The incoming president of the Canadian Medical Association says the new rules regarding medical marijuana put doctors in an uncomfortable and unfair position.

Dr. Chris Simpson says the changes, slated to take effect on April 1, make doctors part of a supply chain for a drug they don't necessarily agree with.

"We've never really been very comfortable with it simply because, unlike any other drug that we prescribe, or authorize, marijuana has not gone through the usual rigor in clinical trials and in safety assessments," he told CBC News on Thursday.

As a result, Simpson predicts many doctors will be reluctant to prescribe marijuana and patients, some of whom have come to rely on it under the current system, will have more difficulty getting the drug.

Since 2001, the role of a doctor has been to simply certify that a patient has one of a number of conditions. Health Canada would then make the decision of whether to allow the use of medical marijuana and dispense the drug.

Now, however, it will be up to physicians to decide who should get the drug and for what conditions, said Simpson, who grew up in Nackawic, N.B., and lives in Kingston, Ont. 

'We’re suddenly being thrust into the role of gatekeeper for what is otherwise an illegal substance in the absence of clinical data to guide us how it might best be used.'- Dr. Chris Simpson, incoming president, Canadian Medical Association

"Our concern is that we’re suddenly being thrust into the role of gatekeeper for what is otherwise an illegal substance in the absence of clinical data to guide us how it might best be used," he said.

"We're being asked to write prescriptions with a blindfold on."

Simpson stressed he's not saying there's no merit to medical marijuana. 

"There may well be, but we don’t know in what circumstances that would be, what conditions it would be, what the dose is, what the potential side effects are, how they might interact with other drugs. All that really important information is simply not there."

And despite the widespread belief that marijuana is "completely innocuous," Simpson says current strains have much higher doses of THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient, and could potentially cause harm.

"That's why I think we need to be really careful about this," he said.