A Sarnia-Lambton doctor who has been researching cannabis as a treatment for dementia says he wants to see cannabinoid therapy for people with the disease covered by public health insurance.
‘That’s an injustice to me, the fact that they have to pay out of pocket for their medication,” said Dr. Blake Pearson.
The founder of Greenly Health Medical Consulting has been prescribing cannabis for dementia patients in long-term care homes in Sarnia-Lambton and elsewhere in the province for years.
The drug doesn’t help stall the progression of the degenerative, memory-robbing disease, he said, but it does help manage symptoms such as agitation that are often controlled instead with anti-psychotics. Pearson said those medications can come with harsh side effects.
The cost for cannabis medicine ranges from $80 to $180 per patient per month, he said, while potentially more harmful medicines are covered.
“So it takes a real motivated family to allow their loved one to use cannabinoids, or to have it as part of their treatment regimen,” he said.
The Sarnia-Lambton treatment program – most if not all nursing homes in the county have people taking part, Pearson said – is also contributing to a growing body of evidence about cannabinoid use.
A cost savings likely needs to be demonstrated to gain approval for public health insurance coverage, said Pearson.
“I think it’ll still be slow moving unfortunately.”
A former lead with the Erie St. Clair Local Health Integration Network working to mitigate opioid drug dependence locally, Pearson said he’s hoping to highlight the positives of cannabinoid medicine amid World Alzheimer’s Month in September, and the challenges facing people amid COVID-19.
The Canadian Alzheimer Society says cannabis research in general is promising, but there is no evidence it’s useful for treating or preventing Alzheimer’s disease, and that long-term use could be harmful and result in memory problems.
“Our organization doesn’t give any medical intervention advice of any sort,” said Christine Wright of the Sarnia-Lambton society chapter.
The symptoms experienced by some people with dementia have been worsening amid COVID-19-related disruption, Pearson said.
“If you’re already very confused … with masks, with their loved ones not being able to visit, with really a lot of social isolation as a result of the pandemic, we’re seeing worsening in these behaviours.”
Along with agitation, dementia symptoms cannabis can help control include poor sleep and abusive behaviour, he said, noting he’s also trained doctors in Australia and New Zealand recently in the use of cannabinoids for patients with dementia.
In those countries, there’s a push to move away from anti-psychotics because they require family consent, he said.
The effects of COVID-19 on dementia was one in a series of webinars Pearson held earlier this year.
Plans are for more Lockdown Learning episodes in the future, he said.
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