In this article, Sita Schubert, General Secretary of the European Medicinal Cannabis Association, discusses the need to get better access to medicinal cannabis treatments to patients in Europe.
Currently, only around one in 300,000 patients in Europe is able to access any kind of medicinal cannabis treatment. The cannabis plant has a lot of medical benefits – there is no doubt about that anymore. One recent study, which collected and assessed patient data over a period of three years, found that cannabis was the most successful treatment available for pain, spasticity, and anorexia.
It is emotional to see patients benefit from treatment; and this is really important for them because many patients who use medical cannabis do so because they have unmet medical needs and there are no other opportunities for treatment available. We really have to be serious about getting patients into treatment who are in need of it.
Improving access for patients
It is also very important that this treatment is decided by a practitioner who knows the patient and their history – cannabis-based medicines should be distributed by a qualified pharmacist; everything should be in a medical setting – but there is also a need for financial reimbursement. It is simply not acceptable for a patient who is already in a critical state to have to criminalise themselves by sourcing cannabis on the black market. It is not an expensive treatment. In Europe we live in such good circumstances in terms of the availability of social healthcare; and access to cannabis must be applicable within that. Doctors need to have a portfolio of treatment options in order to best serve the needs of their patients.
Cannabis has so many specifications which are so beneficial for people. We know that the plant has more than hundreds of active ingredients; and more than 80 of those ingredients have been already investigated and identified as indications for all kinds of diseases that have unmet medical needs. There is a very famous quote from Paracelsus, the 16th century physician and philosopher, saying: ‘All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison.’
There is a substantial difference between treating a patient with a high level of THC for chronic pain or in palliative care and using medicines with a higher proportion of CBD and low THC to treat less serious cosmetic problems in a healthy consumer.
It is human nature that, once someone has a degree of knowledge and understanding of the pain patients are going through, they will be more active in searching for ways to help. In countries where medical cannabis has progressed, like Canada and Israel, it is amazing to see the high level of knowledge that politicians have on the importance of cannabis treatment.
They fight for it; and that is mirrored in their healthcare regulations and their regulatory activities, not only in terms of making cannabis available to patients, but also in the provisions they make for entrepreneurs and producers. Each political party can find some point of interest in cannabis, whether from the perspective of driving scientific research or for its economic benefits. Fostering this highly innovative and very dynamic industry can be beneficial, not only for patients, but also from an economic perspective.
European Medicinal Cannabis Association
This article is from issue 17 of Health Europa. Click here to get your free subscription today.