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Bradford long-term care facility investigates medical marijuana program

Cannabis producer partnering with Ontario Long Term Care Association for six-month pilot of potential pot benefits, best practices for seniors living in long-term care facilities

A medical marijuana pilot study that could register up to 500 seniors living in long-term care facilities is set to roll out in Ontario, making it not only the biggest but the first of its kind. Cannabis and cannabis oil will become legal in Canada on Oct. 17.

Cannabis producer Canopy Growth announced earlier this month it is partnering with the Ontario Long Term Care Association to conduct the six-month study to better learn how medical cannabis use could potentially replace other treatments for pain and cognitive function. The pilot also aims to identify best practices in the areas of safety and quality for long-term care facilities that implement a medical marijuana program.

“Medical cannabis is currently prescribed for residents as appropriate, but it’s still an emerging area,” long-term care association CEO Candace Chartier said in a media release. “Through this partnership and pilot study, we hope to provide more clarity to long-term care clinicians and frontline staff about the use of medical cannabis for residents.”

Bradford West Gwillimbury has one long-term care facility, Bradford Valley Care Community. 

It is not involved in the pilot study, but the facility is investigating how a medical marijuana program could be run there, said Cathy VanBeek, Bradford Valley's executive director.

"Our physicians are interested in exploring the benefits of it," she said. "We're waiting to see what others do and follow their lead." 

She said the facility currently keeps its narcotic medication double locked and counted, so it is now considering whether it would do the same for medical marijuana and if it would be stored with the other narcotics. 

Physicians there are also looking into other aspects of a medical marijuana program, such as how cannabis oil drops would be measured and whether the facility would only allow the plant in oil form, she said. 

The number of people aged 65 and older in BWG makes up 10.7 per cent of the population, according to the 2016 census. That is up 0.6 per cent from the previous census in 2011.

Newmarket has four long-term care facilities, including Eagle Terrace Long Term Care Facility, Mackenzie Place Long Term Care, Southlake Residential Care Village, and Newmarket Health Centre. It has also not been confirmed if any of them will take part in the pilot study.

The senior population in York Region is growing faster than any other cohort, and by 2026 the number of seniors is expected to outnumber that of children, according to the Regional Municipality of York.

The long-term care association, which represents about 70 per cent of Ontario’s 630 long-term care homes, will lead the pilot study and is expected to present its findings sometime next spring. Canopy Growth will provide all the product from its Spectrum Cannabis brand.

According to the association’s This is Long Term Care 2018 report, two out of three long-term care residents have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. About 90 per cent of residents, overall, have some form of cognitive impairment from other causes as well, such as stroke and memory loss, the report states.

“There is clearly an interest in the long-term care space to explore medical cannabis as an alternative to traditional medications for pain and degenerative cognitive function,” Canopy Growth president and CEO Mark Zekulin said in the announcement. “The pilot study we’ve announced ... is the first step in developing an evidence-based, best practice approach to medical cannabis that will result in consistent care for thousands of seniors.”

Meanwhile, the Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury has not yet made a decision if it will allow bricks-and-mortar retail pot shops in the community after legalization. It has until Jan. 22, 2019 to opt-out of the province’s retail plan for the product.

- With files from Jenni Dunning