A Hamilton Doctor leading the way in medical cannabis

By Emily Kertcher

Opioid abuse is an arising crisis in Canada, and the prescription rate is soaring in Ontario.  The dangers of the drug are harsh and with little success of rehabilitation. High addiction and severe depression are among the many side effects that these narcotics have.

Dr. Ira Price. Photo by Emily Kertcher

A crisis this large spread, with no sight of slowing down, it seems that there should be many solutions and ideas looking to help curb the situation.

Here enters Dr. Ira Price. He’s an emergency room doctor at the Juravinski Hospital here in Hamilton. Working there, Dr. Price has seen a lot of patients come and go with addictions to opioids. They’re coming in either overdosed, experiencing withdrawal, or requesting early refills.

“All the drugs you are seeing on the street like Carfentanyl, is causing an immediate loss of consciousness and death. There has to be a solution. We have such a poor understanding of the complexity of pain,” says Dr. Price. “I needed to find something that was safe, and cannabis happens to be that”.

Cannabis. That’s the drug that Dr. Price felt was not necessarily the answer to the addiction crisis but one of the many possible solutions that could help his patients. Opioids sit at a 20-30% addiction rate, and along with a 500% prescription rise, there’s an unsettling feeling with these high numbers.

“When you’re looking at cannabis you’re maybe looking at a four percent addiction rate, which doesn’t have a withdrawal comparison to being able to die from the severe intoxication and withdrawal harsh opioids can produce,” explains Dr. Price.

Talking to his patients was the starting point for Dr. Price. At the time, nobody in the medical community was prescribing medicinal marijuana, but he was desperate for a way to learn more. From the conversations with the patients, Dr. Price was able to reach out to the cannabis community for more information.

He started learning about the benefits the plant could have for addictive patients. Dr. Price created what he now calls “The Price Protocol”, which are guidelines on how to treat and switch patients effectively and safely over to cannabis.

“If you take someone off opioids too quickly they could potentially die from intoxication, and there could be serious side effects from withdrawal”, says Dr. Price.

The patients have the potential for full body shut down. A three-month period of following Dr. Price’s guidelines is how long it typically takes to make the successful switch.

After creating his protocols Dr. Price, in 2010, opened up a small one room operation devoted to evaluating patients for medical cannabis, called Synergy. He received a lot of negative feedback from the community, which he chalks up to people not knowing and understanding what he was doing and what his goals were.

Over the years, Synergy grew. Research and education on medical cannabis was evolving, and eventually he hired other doctors and re-located to a bigger clinic. Still Dr. Price wanted the clinic to grow larger, and wanted something that could provide patients with more opportunities.

This May, Dr. Price will be opening a brand-new wellness centre in Burlington which provides exactly that, more opportunities. No longer focusing on just the pain of the patient but all other modalities. Bringing in services such as massage therapy, physio therapy, naturopathic medicine and yoga.

“It seems that most people have forgotten that mindfulness and exercise is important still,” says Dr. Price.

Another concept that Dr. Price has put together is his ‘exploration centre’. Inside, the centre will provide the patients with the ability to explore all aspects and different extracts of medical cannabis, safe accessories, and different ways for consuming like vaping.

Dr. Price has seen a total turn around in his patients. From being unable to work, depressed, and nonfunctional while on the opioids, he now hears them report of better sleep, talking with their loved ones again and finding employment.

“When I first started out everybody was negative in the community, and that was because nobody knew what I was doing,” says Dr. Price. “I took a lot of heat but I stuck with it and finally the medicine has caught up.”