Medical marijuana: How a headache sufferer got his insurance to cover cannabis

Medical marijuana: How a headache sufferer got his insurance to cover cannabis

Who: Jonathan Zaid is a student at the University of Waterloo and executive director of the group Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana. The group is "dedicated to protecting and improving the rights of medical cannabis patients." It's also partnered with Aphria, a company that produces and supplies medical marijuana.

His medical condition: In an interview Monday on Metro Morning, Zaid said he suffers from a condition called new daily persistent headaches, a rare neurological condition that causes constant headaches, along with sleep and concentration problems. Saying the condition left him with "zero quality of life," Zaid dropped out of Grade 8 and home-schooled through his high school years. "When I turned to medical cannabis, there were no options left. The costs were starting to add up significantly."

Why did you want the cost of your medical marijuana covered by insurance? Zaid said he'd been sick for five years before even considering medical cannabis. He tried 48 prescription medications, along with multiple therapies, all of which were covered by his insurer without question. Except medial cannabis. "The costs were starting to add up significantly and I didn't understand why it shouldn't be covered like every other drug. It was turning around my life. It was affording me the ability to go back to school to work, to do all of these great things."

What did the insurance company say when you first tried to get it covered? Zaid was initially turned down, because his insurer said medical marijuana lacked a drug identification number, and is not a fully approved drug in Canada.

What changed? Zaid talked to the student union (who administers the student health plan) and, after a discussion that lasted eight months, "they came to the conclusion that they should cover it because it supports my academics and should be treated like a medication."

Health Canada doesn't endorse medical marijuana and the Canadian Medical Association says there isn't enough evidence to support its use, so why should insurance companies pay for its use? Zaid said it comes down to physicians prescribing it. If a doctor weighs the risks and benefits of the medication for a patient, it should be allowed. "Most of the patients on it are using it as a last-line therapy," he said. "Most of these people are severely disabled."

How do you go about convincing your insurance company they should cover medical marijuana? He suggests patients make it clear that medical marijuana can be more beneficial to them than opiates.

Why are you pushing this? After all, medical marijuana is a big business. Zaid says he's working with licensed producers to expand access to patients who are often too ill to lobby themselves.

Where would you be without access to medical marijuana? "I'd probably be back where I was sitting at home and doing nothing," said Zaid. "An exciting activity before was going outside to a grocery store, that's the most I could do in a day. And now I can go to school and do all kinds of stuff."