Canadian Pharmacists Association
Canadian Pharmacists Association

1 in 4 medical cannabis users say it's now harder to access cannabis since recreational legalization

July 4, 2019 (Ottawa): The legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada has had an impact on access to medical cannabis, with one in four medical cannabis users saying that it is now harder to access the cannabis they need.

According to a recent survey jointly commissioned by Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM), the Arthritis Society and the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA), access issues are just one of the unintended consequences of recreational cannabis legalization affecting medical cannabis patients. Supply issues, the cost of cannabis, or a mix of these factors have also led 64% of medical cannabis users to under-dose or stretch out their supply.

The reality is that since legalization it has become easier for recreational users to purchase cannabis than it is for patients to access it through the long-established medical cannabis stream. Though most Canadians (83%) believe that cannabis is a legitimate medication to treat physical pain and mental conditions, many patients are now purchasing cannabis from recreational outlets or from the illegal black market, and getting health advice from unregulated sources.

Other key findings include:

  • The majority of medical cannabis users surveyed (61%) self-medicate, which could lead to harmful outcomes.
  • Respondents indicated that the most common means of accessing medical cannabis are through mail order from a licensed producer (38%) or through the illegal market (37%).
  • A core group of medical cannabis users (38%) rely heavily on cannabis – top conditions or symptoms treated are physical pain, insomnia, anxiety, stress and arthritis.
  • While 60% of medical cannabis users report taking other medications while using cannabis, a large majority of patients (76%) don’t think there are any side effects from combining cannabis with other medications.
  • 15% of medical cannabis users have either personally experienced or know someone who has experienced side effects from the use of cannabis in combination with other medications.

“For many Canadians with arthritis, cannabis truly is medicine,” explains Janet Yale, Arthritis Society President and CEO. “It’s time the health system treat it as medicine – and that starts with ensuring that patients have timely, reliable and affordable access to the strains, forms and concentrations they need, and that they have the guidance of a health care professional throughout the process.”

“In order to have an effective medical system for the hundreds and thousands of Canadians using cannabis for medical purposes, it needs to be more accessible,” says Max Monahan-Ellison, Vice President, CFAMM. “Patients need easy access to a safe, affordable, and consistent dose and cannabinoid breakdown for their symptoms and more involved support from health care professionals (HCPs). This means treating cannabis like other medically authorized treatments by eliminating tax, improving insurance coverage and HCP training, providing convenient distribution through established medical systems like the pharmacy, and more.” 

“As medication experts, we are regularly approached by patients about the use of cannabis for a variety of indications,” says Christine Hrudka, Chair, Canadian Pharmacists Association. “It’s important to understand how patients may use and access cannabis in order to help them manage their medications and treatment. While we can do our part as pharmacists to support patients, what they need is more support from the government, who has left them behind on the road to legalization of recreational cannabis.”

The survey highlights some of the challenges, gaps and barriers patients are facing, both in terms of access and support from our health care system, and the government clearly needs to do more to support medical cannabis patients who have been left behind since recreational legalization.

The survey was conducted by Abacus Data and jointly commissioned by Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM), the Arthritis Society and the Canadian Pharmacists Association in order to better understand the experiences of medical cannabis users after the legalization of recreational cannabis came into effect in October 2018.

About the Arthritis Society

The Arthritis Society is a national health charity, fueled by donors and volunteers, with a vision to live in a world where people are free from the devastating effects that arthritis has on lives. Begun in 1948 with one very clear goal – to alleviate the suffering of people crippled by arthritis – that same volunteer-led passion carries on today in communities across Canada. Through the trust and support of our donors and sponsors, the Arthritis Society is Canada’s largest charitable source of investment in cutting-edge arthritis research, and a leader in proactive advocacy and innovative solutions that will deliver better health outcomes for people affected by arthritis. The Arthritis Society is accredited under Imagine Canada’s Standards Program. For more information, to volunteer or to make a donation, visit

About Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana

Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM) is a federal non-profit, non-partisan, patient run organization whose mission is to put patients first. CFAMM is dedicated to improving the outcomes of medical cannabis patients and enabling them to obtain fair, safe and affordable access to their treatment through support, education and advocacy. For more information, visit

About the Canadian Pharmacists Association

The Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) is the uniting national voice of pharmacy and the pharmacist profession in Canada. As pharmacists undertake an enhanced role in the delivery of health care services, CPhA ensures that the profession is recognized as a national leader in health care, influencing the policies, programs, budgets and initiatives affecting the profession and the health of Canadians.

For more information, please contact:

Douglas Emerson
Senior Manager, Communications
Arthritis Society
416-979-7228 x3348

Max Monahan-Ellison
Vice President

Tyler Gogo
Strategic Communications Manager
Canadian Pharmacists Association