How a specialized nursing company aims to make medical cannabis safer and less confusing for seniors

Seniors looking to access medical cannabis face a complicated and potentially dangerous journey: Wayfare Nursing hopes to change that

It’s been about a year since Wayfare Nursing hit the ground running, with the aim of helping seniors access medical cannabis safely.

Seniors are the largest growing population looking to access medical cannabis for their ailments. And according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, almost 60% of seniors are taking five or more medications and over 20% are taking more than 10. 

Wayfare’s goal is simple: To help seniors and veterans find relief of their symptoms in the fastest time possible while providing cannabis education support, assistance in paperwork and ordering. 

“We tested the concept by trying to connect with doctors to see what their take on it was, and to try to understand their comfort with prescribing medical cannabis and whether the service would be of value to them,” explained Cindy Owen, VP of Wayfare Nursing, who has worked with seniors as an RN for two decades. “What we discovered was that physicians were at times reluctant to prescribe but it wasn’t necessarily for the reasons we thought. It was often more about time. They don’t have the time to answer all the questions that their patients will have around cannabis nor time to spend educating their patients. 

Some doctors also weren’t familiar with cannabis, leading to a lack of comfort prescribing or voiced concerns related to the lack of research that they are used to seeing for other medications. 

“We thought, ‘We can do better for our senior population.’ They’re the largest growing demographic that’s looking to access cannabis. It is a unique process compared to any other prescriptions. There are many questions patients have about how and when to take the medication as well as knowing which producer to get their cannabis from and how to get this process set up. These are some of the pieces doctors were struggling with as they often just don’t have the time to support this process. 

“We wanted to be sure that seniors are using cannabis safely and were able to access it if their doctor felt it was an appropriate treatment for them. Seniors are a unique demographic and they often need the ongoing support that Wayfare Nursing can provide.”

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Wayfare Nursing was born with the vision of being a mobile, home-care company, explained Owen. 

“We are going right into the seniors’ home, sitting with them over a cup of tea, talking about the potential side effects, benefits and any potential risks.  We educate them on the different cannabinoids THC and CBD and what they will likely experience. In short, we help them navigate the process and provide education around dosing as well as ongoing support for them with any questions or concerns that may arise. 

Wayfare’s specialized cannabis education nurses help answer a plethora of questions, not the least of which is whether THC or CBD might be most appropriate, and how cannabis interacts with other prescription drugs they are on as well as other important information around travel, side effects, etc. 

This one-on-one care was largely “missing in the medical cannabis industry,” said Owen.

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Many doctors have been referring clients to Wayfare Nursing when requests come through their doors from patients wanting to consider trying cannabis, but clients can self-refer as well, Owen explained. 

After an intake form has been submitted – which can be done online, or during a home visit – the company uses a variety of clinical assessment tools to determine any potential interactions with their medications and whether someone is even a safe candidate for cannabis. Then, they create a documentation package a patient can take to their doctor, highlighting any concerns as well as outlining a suggested starting dose and product based on best practice information for the doctor to review and prescribe if agreeable. 

“What we are hearing, is that many seniors are accessing cannabis for medical use through the recreational system and we find this to be a “big concern.”

“What we’re hearing and seeing is that seniors are hearing about cannabis and want to try it but at times they may be going into a retail location where the staff  are not able or permitted to give any medical advice. The store can actually lose their license if they do. For seniors who may have complex medical conditions and often taking a plethora of pharmaceuticals or medications, this is simply not safe.” she explained.

“They’re largely guessing with a product off the shelf and if they’re in a retail location, they are seeing mostly recreational products which are typically higher THC products and could have some very unpleasant and concerning side effects for seniors,” she added.

“Another big concern is that if they are purchasing from a retail outlet, then they’re likely not going to talk to their doctor about it. Their doctor is then unaware that they’re even embarking on this treatment,and this could lead to some significant dangers. We have seen patients who did go this route and had some very unpleasant experiences with the products that they chose and may also now be unwilling or fearful to try cannabis again with a more appropriate product. They are then losing out on a treatment that may have provided some great benefit or relief for them.  So it’s definitely a concern, especially with seniors. We want to be sure that people are very safe in the products they are using.”

READ ALSO: Almost five million Canadians report using cannabis, but illegal sales still thriving

Owen said when a treatment plan of medical cannabis is started properly, the benefits can be significant for some patients and can also have the added benefit of fewer side effects when compared to many pharmaceuticals on the market. 

“The most common reasons that many seniors are looking to medical cannabis as an option is for help with pain, sleep and anxiety, although there are other conditions it may also provide relief of” she revealed. “All three of those conditions can be treated with medications with some significant side effects. In many cases,  our goal is more reduction rather than getting people off of opioids or other medications. ”

“Certainly we have some seniors who are able to discontinue some of their other medications, however we need to set realistic expectations,” she added. “At Wayfare do not proclaim cannabis to be a miracle drug and I get frustrated when people do. It’s not, but it’s a very valid option for many and we are seeing some really great responses in a variety of conditions. It is really exciting and encouraging to see so many seniors feeling better and enjoying their life and activities that often they haven’t been able to do for some time, or at least have relief or reduction in some of their symptoms such as chronic pain.”

The main message Wayfare strives to get across to seniors is that whether your doctor is supportive or not, you have the right to have that conversation. Everyone has the right to advocate for their own health. 

“A doctor may be opposed to medical cannabis for a variety of reasons and that is their right however we don’t want people to avoid having this discussion with their doctor.  We strongly encourage patients to speak openly to their physicians about cannabis and hope that more doctors will become willing to consider this option for some of their patients.   It’s not a reasonable treatment for everyone but people should not be afraid to ask ‘do you think cannabis could be an option for me?,’ We don’t want seniors or anyone to be embarrassed and really want to remove their fears and any stigma related to cannabis.  Cannabis is here to stay and there is a significant interest in cannabinoid medicine. 

Wayfare has plans to expand their company throughout Canada, and are currently operating in Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton and have recently added Victoria.   We’re hoping in the next year to be across the country as we know the interest and need is across the country” said Owen. 

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