Reimbursement Policy on Cannabis for Medical Purposes

Background

Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) made the decision to reimburse one individual for cannabis for medical purposes based on compassionate grounds in 2007. VAC has been reimbursing Veterans for the cost of cannabis for medical purposes since 2008.

History of Veterans reimbursed for cannabis for medical purposes and cost
Fiscal Year Veterans Cost
2008-2009 5 $19,088
2009-2010 15 $43,365
2010-2011 23 $63,057
2011-2012 37 $103,424
2012-2013 68 $284,632
2013-2014 112 $408,809
2014-2015 628 $5,160,747
2015-2016 1762 $20,538,153
2016 – April to September 3071 $31,000,000

There are three factors that have contributed to the increase in the Department’s total costs of cannabis for medical purposes:

  • More physicians and health care practitioners are authorizing cannabis for medical purposes as a result of Health Canada regulation changes in 2014 and 2016.
  • In 2008, prior to the implementation of the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, Health Canada contracted with suppliers to make dried marijuana for medical purposes available. Health Canada’s regulations changed in 2014 and again in 2016 allowing for greater access.
  • More Veterans are accessing this benefit.
  • The price per gram of marijuana varies depending on the product being purchased. Price varies by licensed producers.

Research Overview

  • While research on cannabis use for medical purposes is limited, Veterans Affairs Canada has heard from Veterans and their advocates who report that marijuana helps them with their health problems. This anecdotal information has been considered along with the available scientific evidence, sound clinical practice, and with the primary concern - the health and general well-being of Veterans and their families.
  • Veterans Affairs Canada has reviewed the available research information and clinical practice provided by sources such as Health Canada, and the various colleges of physicians.
    • It is acknowledged that there is a need for additional research, specifically randomized clinical trials, and that research findings to date are limited.
  • While marijuana is being increasingly legalized for medical and/or recreational use across the United States, it remains a prohibited Schedule 2 drug in Canada. Some researchers contend that this has inhibited research into the matter. A recently released review found that “While the list of conditions varies from state to state, the most commonly listed conditions include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, cachexia, nausea, pain, muscle spasticity, and epilepsy.”Footnote i
  • The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, in summer 2016, updated reports they conducted, one on the medical use of cannabis and cannabinoidsFootnote ii and one on chronic use and cognitive functioning and mental healthFootnote iii. These reports are cautious in their view of cannabis use for medical purposes and note, “…there is insufficient research to promote cannabis and cannabinoids as a primary or first line option for these symptoms”.Footnote iv
  • VAC considers the Veterans’ own physician to be in the best position to identify and authorize the most appropriate treatments to address their patient’s health conditions.
  • Together with the Canadian Armed Forces, the Department will develop a research plan and conduct a study that will strengthen evidence on the effects of marijuana on the health of Veterans.
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