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Patient guide on cannabis sheds light for kidney patients seeking relief

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Comprehensive booklet is one of many medication resources on

A recent addition to BC Renal’s website has become a well-referenced pain- and discomfort-management resource for people living with kidney disease. Medical cannabis in patients with chronic kidney disease is a 16-page guide written in a conversational “questions and answers” format.

The publication, which came to life following a Kidney Care Clinic “lunch and learn” two years ago, begins with a straightforward question: “What are cannabinoids?” and develops from there, with a total of 23 questions and answers, including:

  • What conditions or symptoms are likely to improve with use? Short answer: Studies that have been done show cannabis provides some benefit for chronic nerve pain and chronic cancer pain or palliative-stage pain.
  • When should patients consider cannabis as a treatment option? Short answer: Talk first with your health care team. Cannabinoids or medical cannabis aren’t considered first or second choice treatments for any condition.
  • Can cannabis affect my kidney function? Short answer: It may depend on whether you have normal or diminished kidney function.
These three questions - which have answers with greater information in the guide - are examples of the practical, extensive information available to kidney patients who are wondering if medical cannabis would be a helpful addition to their treatment regimen.

Chock-full of information – and readily accessible

In addition to the main Q&A section, the guide’s appendices have lots of useful information, such as: 
  • An easy-to-read table of Canadian cannabis products for medical use;
  • A cannabis use and symptoms table for patients to fill out, which tracks their cannabis medication experiences; and
  • A cannabis screening test, which can indicate hazardous cannabis use.
As well, there are over 20 scientific citations that provide clear sources for anyone who wants to learn more about information referenced in the guide.

Listed prominently on the Health Info/Medication page of BC Renal’s website, the guide is a popular resource. Within its first year on the site, it has been accessed more than 1,000 times. 

Patient partner input

Development of the guide included not just professional medical contributions, but also input from BC Renal patient partners like Paul Zambas. These partners considered a number of patient perspectives. For instance, Paul notes, “We looked at the use of cannabis from the point of view of a kidney patient who is already using cannabis” in addition to one who isn’t.

The guide, Paul says, is not an endorsement of cannabis use, nor does it claim benefits from the use of cannabis. He adds, “We also discussed how to safeguard the patient from self-directing cannabis use.”

Helping patients make informed choices

Island Health pharmacist Dan Martinusen is chair of BC Renal’s provincial Pharmacy and Formulary Review Committee and co-authored the guide with Fraser Health pharmacist Claudia Ho. Dan says, “We know patients have questions regarding cannabis’ usefulness in managing symptoms. We have tried to represent current evidence so patients can make informed choices. Cannabis is not for everyone, but for those who may find it helpful, we want to provide useful information for safe use.”

Dan notes further, “the resource can serve as a starting point for conversations between patients and health care providers.” 

This is echoed by nephrologist Dr. Mike Bevilacqua, who in addition to serving kidney patients in the Fraser Health region is chair of BC Renal’s provincial Kidney Care Committee. Mike says, “Many patients have questions about cannabis products and their benefits or safety. However, when dealing with kidney disease, a stigma remains around cannabis use, and many patients are afraid to ask or are unsure where to find information. I can refer them to this trusted, straightforward and informative resource, and my patients are very appreciative.”




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