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A trailblazer in the medical cannabis community

Posted: Friday, August 21, 2020

Dr. Shelley Turner is a physician who grew up in the Interlake community of Gimli, Manitoba and a member of Pimicikamak (Cross Lake) First Nation. She is recognized as a trailblazer in the medical cannabis community across Canada. Not only did she help develop and teach the first cannabis course offered by a post-secondary institute in Manitoba, she has conducted more than 19,000 patient interactions across Canada with patients who are utilizing cannabinoid therapy to assist with a range of issues from pain management to insomnia.

She specializes in cannabinoid therapies for addictions, sleep, mood disorders, and chronic pain and is currently involved in a number of research projects that look to build research capacity among people with lived and living experience of cannabis use and/or mental health problems and illnesses.

On June 25, 2020, Dr. Shelley and team opened the second Manitoba-based Ekosi Health Centre right next to Meyers pharmacy on William and Isabel, purposely located between Health Sciences Centre and Main Street; she believes this community deserves all the supports possible to address the opioid crisis. When asked about the ongoing stigma attached to the use of cannabis, Dr. Shelley said the number of lives lost to the opioid epidemic is a severe and persistent threat to our families and communities which adds to the constellation of issues we already deal with. (In fact, on September 5th, 2017, the Dakota Ojibway Tribal Council declared their first ever state of emergency on the opioid drug crisis impacting their communities). Combining opioid replacement therapy (ORT) with medicinal cannabis treatment protocols, Dr. Shelley facilitates safe access and harm reduction with the end goal of building resilience in patients.

Looking back, she found that many of her patients were using cannabis from the illicit/legacy market to reduce their withdrawal effects and anxiety, to help with sleep, or to reduce pain. “I remember a patient telling me over 10 years ago, ‘Hey, Doc, there’s weed out there that doesn’t make you high’, and I admit at that time, I didn’t believe her” but after much reading of research, with a few of her patients stable on ORT (methadone/suboxone), she began providing access to legal medical cannabis for them “with the result that they were able to reduce opioids and feel like they had more control of their health and of their lives”. Fast forward to the present day and she now provides cannabinoid therapy for over 7,500 patients – a significant number of whom are Indigenous.

Recognizing research and education are the key to helping members of all communities understand the potential of cannabinoid therapy and address stigma associated with cannabis, Dr. Shelley and Ekosi team were involved in creating and delivering Red River College’s School of Indigenous Education’s first Cannabis 101 course in September of 2018. Since then, the Ekosi team has spoken and facilitated education sessions at a number of events including several National Indigenous Cannabis and Hemp Conferences held in Calgary, Ottawa and Kelowna, the Pharma Sciences Group Know to Grow, Arthritis Talks, the Native Women’s Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations Cannabis Summit.

Dr. Shelley and the EHC team are using an evidence-based and evidence-informed model of health care that incorporates primary care, addiction and harm reduction, social work, and other disciplines under the EHC banner, integrating cannabinoid therapy expertise to create a total Circle of Care for patients. The team has been operating in Ontario and Gimli, Manitoba (which just this spring received official MB Tele-health site designation), and has now opened this second Manitoba Ekosi Health Centre at the corner of William and Isabel.

Ekosi Health Centre next to Meyers pharmacy on William and Isabel.

Photo: Ekosi Health Centre next to Meyers pharmacy on William and Isabel.

Dr. Shelley says, “Ekosi Health Centre is proud to be located in the area, alongside Meyers Drugs pharmacy, a community institution”, and “we are looking forward to building our team of physician associates and allied health professionals to help provide a complete Circle of Care for the community”.

Ekosi was named in honour of Shelley’s grandmother from Pimicikamak who was a Cree translator for the Health Sciences Centre.

Rebecca Chartrand writes about amazing Indigenous women who are sharing in the responsibility to guide our nations back to a place of well-being.
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