As part of the Kelowna Capital News’ ongoing series looking into various aspects of medicinal marijuana, reporter Kevin Parnell interviewed naturopathic doctor Chris Spooner, who operates a naturopathic clinic in Vernon and is now working alongside Lift Resource Centre, which provides information to patients about medicinal marijuana.
Spooner has been in practice for 16 years. He acquired a bachelor of science in biology from the University of Victoria before attending the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Health Sciences.
Naturopaths are trained much the same as doctors but attend a naturopathic college as opposed to traditional medical school and focus on holistic approaches to medicine such as nutritional medicine or acupuncture.
Capital News: When does a naturopathic doctor normally see a patient?
Dr. Spooner: “For a lot of patients they’ve exhausted the options available in the conventional system so they seek us out and that’s where cannabis comes into the equation. Many people have tried many pharmaceutical options and they’ve exhausted all of their options so are looking to what else is out there.”
CN: What’s been your experience seeing patients who have taken some form of medicinal marijuana?
Spooner: “I’ve seen some really interesting stuff that has happened, some remarkable success stories but I’ve also seen some spectacular failures. I have to say it’s not the panacea, not the silver bullet for every disease that is out there. It requires some understanding of the patients symptoms and the nature of their disease and the history of the patient to see if it will be something helpful and appropriate for them.”
CN: As a drug controlled under the federal government’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, how does marijuana compare to a substance like alcohol?
Spooner: “I’ve seen patients that really like cannabis and use it a lot. Are they addicted to it? I haven’t seen it in a way that someone is addicted to pain killers or even alcohol. It’s an interesting dichotomy we have where we see such tolerance for alcohol but not cannabis. From an addictive standpoint I don’t see it (with cannabis). I see people able to start or stop taking cannabis at anytime.”
CN: What’s your history with marijuana?
Spooner: “I was really naive about cannabis. Three or four years ago I knew nothing about the plant. I had some patients who had some really intriguing results. As a physician it’s my responsibility to know everything you are taking. If you’re hoping to take cannabis that’s your right but I need to understand it, the rationale and the therapeutics, to find out if there are things interfering or other issues.”
CN: How do you feel marijuana compares to other drugs regularly used in traditional medicine?
Spooner: “If we take a look at morphine: Morphine is heroine that is used for therapy. We’re using plant-based medicines and we’ve moved down the road in understanding how to use them. They’ve become some of the most relied upon medicines now. Do cannabinoids (the chemical compounds in marijuana) have that potential? I suspect they might once we learn some of the more interesting aspects and we allow the research to unfold, we will find a number of interesting applications for the plant.”
CN: How do you decide what treatment option is best for patients?
Spooner: “I think whenever you are looking at options for patients you have to consider the risk versus the benefit. I’ve seen a lot of patients that have been put on very heavy narcotics medications. We know that narcotic abuse in general is a problem with regard to opiates and fentanyl and this kind of thing. Are there other options? Cannabis does have to be looked at. If a patient has tried cannabis in the past and it seems to be working I think that needs to be looked at. The risk isn’t nearly as extreme as the benefit.”
CN: Why hasn’t more been done to research marijuana?
Spooner: “The big thing with the medications we use and the therapies we provide is ‘follow the dollars,’ and I don’t want this to sound like a conspiracy thing. But if you take a look at why hasn’t cannabis been studied? Because there is no money in it. No one is going to spend $20 million to study it because there is no product that can be patented. Tumeric is a wonderful anti-inflammatory but it doesn’t get studied. No one is going to patent a natural substance.”
CN: What’s the bottom line on medicinal marijuana at this point?
Spooner: “I think patients are being left in the lurch: They may have tried cannabis and it seemed to have helped so they go to a medical doctor and they will be given prescriptions for Tylenol 3 or all these heavy duty drugs that do have addictive potential to them. This is crazy. Cannabis is helping them without the pharmaceutical side-effects…why would we not entertain that option? Work with the patients and see how that works. They should be able to go to their doctor and talk openly and freely about what they are using without being judged.”