Should the EU adopt a common regulatory framework for medical cannabis? Currently, some European Member States (including Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, and Sweden) have completely banned medical cannabis, whereas it can be legally prescribed in others, such as Germany. Ireland and Denmark are currently running medical cannabis trial programmes to measure the impact of legalisation.
Proponents argue that medical cannabis could benefit patients with chronic pain, particularly as a substitute for opioid-based pain medication (which, as the US experience has demonstrated, can have devastating social consequences if they are overused or misused). Critics, however, worry that legalisation of marijuana for medicinal purposes could lead to full legalisation for recreational use. They also argue there are legal alternatives that, if used correctly, are effective ways to manage pain and treat patients.
What do our readers think? We had a comment come in from Ian, who says: “At least legalise medical research into cannabis aimed at pain relief and the use of cannabis products aimed at pain relief. At least that. What’s the use of having a potential treatment, even probably less harmful than opioids, if you’re not going to use it based on prejudice?”
To get a response, we put Ian’s comment to Sita Schubert, Founder and Secretary General, European Medicinal Cannabis Association (EUMCA). What would she say?
Yes. I think it will happen. We have already come a long way since the time when cannabis was completely unrecognised and the headlines were full of scare stories. Fortunately, this is over.
The medical possibilities of this extraordinary plant have now been recognised and researchers and companies have had the opportunity to take a deeper look at the benefits for patients. We have had the opportunity to study dosages, and emphasise safety – which is always important with a psychotropic drug – much more strongly. For years, our members – manufactures and growers of medical cannabis – have financed research and clinical studies to produce a wealth of data and clinical findings about the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis.
Next up, we had a question from Bogdan, who wants to know: Who would benefit from the legalisation of medical cannabis, and would there be a social and economic impact?
Well, first, of course, the patient is the main beneficiary. You can see this in Germany, for example, where we have recently changed our narcotic legislation to permit the possible treatment by medical cannabis. In Germany, medical cannabis is prescribed by doctors and, to a large extent, the cost is also reimbursed by health insurance companies.
The data shows that chronic pain patients benefit from medical cannabis, and it has also been prescribed in cases of epilepsy, including childhood epilepsy. There have also been studies looking at medical cannabis in the treatment of autism.
Of course, there will also be a certain social and economic impact. Cannabis treatment would be the most disruptive change in the pharmaceutical industry for a long time. We would be able to switch patients from opiates to cannabis, for example.
Finally, we had a comment from Emma, who is worried that legalising cannabis for medical purposes (which she approves of) paves the way to full legalisation (which she doesn’t want). Is she right? What would you say to her?
We are aware that other countries are observing the very safe development in Germany; the database for undesirable side effects at the Federal Institute for Drugs shows few cases. This will certainly help groups to find their own arguments, perhaps to push for legalisation. But we must not confuse apples and pears here.
I would point out that here in Germany we are working in a clinical context when treating patients with medical cannabis. Firstly, medical cannabis is a product which has been manufactured according to high pharmaceutical standards.
Secondly, the product is only prescribed for the patient by the doctor after strict consideration. This means that the physician knows his patient very well and selects an optimal treatment for him, in which e.g. pain treatment often starts with low doses as a starting point. Only when the patient tolerates these well and the pain management requires higher doses, does the doctor respond to the patient accordingly. The treatment is closely monitored by the doctor.
Thirdly, the pharmacist is an expert in the preparation of the medication and the effective content and observes important pharmaceutical rules. We are talking about a medicinal product.
You see, a comparison with recreational use is not possible. Because with the recreational use, quality is more a feeling than a formulation of “Good Manufacturing Practice” and cannot be monitored. To what extent a private individual can assess the health risks of a psychotropic substance for himself remains an open question.
I am, of course, familiar with comparisons with alcohol consumption. But we have also been living with the harmful consequences of alcohol consumption for centuries – and not in the best way. Shall we really add another one? We see a serious danger for healthcare in legalisation of cannabis products.
Should medicinal cannabis be legalised? What would be the benefits of legalisation? And what might be the social and economic impact? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!