Marijuana for Trauma program aimed at veterans but attracts civilians

A program aimed at providing access to medical marijuana for veterans in Cape Breton, N.S., who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder has attracted the attention of civilians and is now finding itself helping everyone from cancer patients to those suffering from post-surgical pain.

Organization says 40 per cent of patients at Sydney, N.S., centre are civilians

Joe MacGillivary (left) and Vince Rigby scroll through the website of a licenced marijuana provider Thursday at Marijuana for Trauma Inc.'s Sydney centre. (Contributed)

A veteran's centre in Cape Breton is now helping about 80 people access medical marijuana, but many of them have not served in the military.

The Marijuana for Trauma Inc. centre opened in Sydney in June. The primary focus was to help veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, but volunteer Joe MacGillivray says the patient list is growing beyond that.

"We have cancer patients that are coming through, people that are in constant pain," he said. "People that just had surgeries."

He says two patients, for instance, had operations on their backs and were on heavy pain medication, but were searching for alternatives to drugs such as Oxycontin and Dilaudid.

"They're finding the marijuana's more of a soothing pain reliever and not like the medication a doctor would give that you're in a fog," MacGillivray said.

MacGillivary himself is a patient and a veteran diagnosed with PTSD. He says he was skeptical about using medical marijuana at first, but it's helping.

"Before, I tried suicide twice," he said. "I still have my days like everybody else, but it doesn't hit as hard and it's a little more easy to deal with."

'There is still the stigma'

The centre's president, Vince Rigby, says about 40 per cent of patients are civilians. He says many family doctors are "scared" of medical marijuana.

"There's not enough education out there," Rigby said. "There is still the stigma."

He says even when family doctors do write a prescription, it often doesn't come with instructions. 

At the centre, Rigby and the other volunteers help patients deal with the licensed providers, settle on what strain of marijuana to use, the dosage, and how to take it. In addition to current patients, he says there are another 30 on a waiting list.

Liz Phillips has stage four breast cancer and has been taking cannabis oil since March.

"My oncologist can't understand why I'm in no pain. Don't have any. I feel great," she said.

While her doctors don't support her use of marijuana, she says it's giving her hope, something the mainstream medical system has not.

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