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The number of Canadians approved for medical cannabis use has tripled during the last year, according to Sept. 30 numbers from Health Canada showing that 98,460 individuals are approved for medical cannabis use, up from 30,537 in Sept. 2015.

According to an Ottawa Citizen report, the increase is likely due to changes in the nation’s medical cannabis system in 2014, which moved away from patients growing their own cannabis and introduced a new structure under which commercial cultivation centers are permitted to sell cannabis by mail.

Dr. Sana-Ara Ahmed, who started using cannabis at her practice last year, says it’s patients, rather than physicians, who are driving the program’s growth.

“There may be a few more doctors open to it. But I also believe it’s the same doctors, seeing more people,” Ahmed in the report. “The direction is coming from the public. The direction is not coming from the physicians.”

Patients are sharing their success stories, Ahmed said, which is compelling other patients to reconsider cannabis therapies and forcing physicians to consider learning more about the medical uses of the plant.

In an effort to educate physicians, Alan Ball, a professor at the University of Toronto and family physician, has conducted workshops for physicians about the use of medical cannabis, serving as chair of a continuing medical education program on the matter at the College of Family Physicians of Canada.

“A patient walks in, says, ‘I have this pain. I’ve been using street marijuana; it helps me,’ ” Bell said. “The average physician is going to be at a loss. And as physicians, we are very reluctant to authorize the use of any medications without adequate education. That’s a real barrier. But it’s an overcomeable barrier. We’re in early days.”

Health Canada estimates that there will be 450,000 authorized patients by 2024. The federal government is expected to unveil an adult-use cannabis scheme in the spring.

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