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UBCO students to get medical cannabis coverage

Kelowna - The pilot project will be implemented in April

UBC Okanagan is getting a benefits plan that will cover the cost of medical cannabis for students.

With the introduction of the new program in 2018, UBCO becomes the second university in Canada to offer a research-backed approach for covering the costs of medical cannabis, according to Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM).

After two years of discussions with UBC Students’ Union Okanagan (UBCSUO), a motion was put forward and passed in December 2017 to implement a one-year pilot project to cover and study the costs of legally authorized medical cannabis.

The decision came after a graduate student proposed the idea to the student union, said UBCSUO president Trophy Ewila.

The project will be tailored to UBCO and should be available by mid-April, he said.

“I thought it was a great platform (to support), especially because of very chronic and severe illness that may affect the students. I thought that this was something worth backing up and also to support innovation from students.”

Ewila said there is a need for medical cannabis coverage and used a recent awareness campaign for chronic fatigue at the university as an example of students that have a specific need.

“Those are people we are targeting for help, those who can’t find help from other insurance companies or the normal type of insurance companies.”

The pilot project will assess eligibility for coverage based on clinical criteria and there is a proposed plan in the works to back it with a research framework that will study the health and financial outcomes of covering medical cannabis, said CFAMM. The proposed research framework will be designed and led by Dr. Zach Walsh, associate professor of psychology at UBCO, who has extensive experience evaluating patient access to medical cannabis.

“Our goal is to try to examine changes in the use of other medications covered by the health plan and see if we see reductions in the use of other prescription medications,” said Walsh. “When we assess the impact of cannabis… if we don’t look at the impact on the use of other drugs we’re really not getting the full picture.”

“If it’s something that’s going to save insurers money, then I think we’ll see a pretty quick uptake on it,” he said.

Most people who engage in illicit opioid use started from prescription drugs and Walsh said although there are risks with using cannabis, “it’s certainly less problematic than opioid dependents in most ways, but if people use cannabis for a long time they can develop a dependence. It impairs attention memory,” adding outcomes of studies vary on students’ academic performance being affected by the drug.

The details of the project are still being worked out, however, an application process will begin and students enrolled in the legal medical cannabis program (ACMPR) will submit documentation to a third-party who will assess their eligibility for coverage, said CFAMM.

Severe conditions such as chronic pain and nausea from chemotherapy will take priority, however, depending on program uptake, students with less severe conditions will be offered support. As with other approved medications, a 20 percent co-pay for participating students will be implemented to ensure the program is not misused, said CFAMM.

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