Ontario Medical Association Apologizes for Perpetuating Stereotype

doctor displays cannabis leaf in dish

With the legalization of recreational marijuana only a few days away, a leading Ontario doctor is backtracking after she voiced concern about its safe use.

Dr. Nadia Alam, president of the Ontario Medical Association, apologized Saturday after suggesting that smoking a joint could act as a gateway to harder drugs in a CBC Radio interview.

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A Rebuke of 'Reefer Madness'

Cannabis activists were quick to call out Dr. Alam for perpetuating the ‘reefer madness’ we’re supposed to be moving away from.

Alam woke up to a flurry of backlash on social media Saturday morning after a London Morning segment on her stance regarding the side-effects of recreational marijuana aired Thursday.

“What I would say is that I misspoke, I misunderstood,” she told CBC Toronto on Saturday.

In addition to saying that marijuana could act as a gateway drug, she said in the Thursday interview that recreational use can play a role in causing anxiety and withdrawal symptoms for people who become addicted to it.

Regret, Reversal, Remorse

“I take my responsibility to provide solid information to my patients, the public, my colleagues, very, very seriously,” Dr. Alam said. “I felt a lot of remorse for having made a mistake, so that’s why I took corrective action.”

"I apologize. I misspoke. Recreational cannabis is NOT a gateway drug. I thank my colleagues for correcting me.

Decriminalization & harm reduction create safer, healthier communities. Illness should be treated without stigma."

Risk Assessment

Dr. Alam went on to say, that the risks surrounding recreational marijuana need to be accounted for, by both the medical community and consumers.

Alam went on to cite the dangers and increased reporting of cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome in emergency rooms. Chronic marijuana users are the most at risk of the syndrome which involves repeated vomiting, nausea and stomach cramps.

“That’s what I mean about informed decision making,” Alam said. “This isn’t about making judgments. This isn’t about trying to impose my own value system or someone else’s value system on a patient.”

Misinformation Harbors Discrimination

Cannabis activist Jodie Emery says misinformation can only harm Canadians. "When doctors spread this kind of fear about cannabis being a gateway drug to harder drugs, they’re perpetuating the ‘reefer madness’ we’re supposed to be moving away from.”

Emery theorizes that the stigma exists because the government and medical community’s attitude toward recreational marijuana focuses on harm. She thinks after legalization the stigma may change, but it will take time.

“The stigma will start to break down and that is a net benefit, but people still need to be aware there is still a lot of stigma, still a lot of discrimination.”

A Second Opinion

Dr. Michael Verbora, who has been working in the field of cannabinoid medicine for about four years and serves on the Ontario Medical Association as a district delegate, says that Dr. Alam was presenting information that was not up to date.

“I think she was just circulating information that she thought was to the best of her knowledge, but new information shows that it’s not quite the way she presented it.”

Risks Seen Before Rewards

Verbora says the medical community is reluctant to engage with newer research about marijuana.

“Cannabis is so stigmatized and that’s just because in the medical community, the way we talk about it, the way we educate on it, we only talk about the harms and we don’t talk about the benefits.”

For instance, there is a system of receptors in the body that has been linked in explaining why cannabinoids help in the treatment of anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Verbora says research on the endocannabinoid system has been around for over 20 years but is still not taught in medical schools.