Cyprus Mail

When a genuine need can lead to jail

The bill will be discussed after the presidential elections

By Elias Hazou

AN ELDERLY couple appeared in a Limassol court during the week after they were arrested for growing cannabis plants in their home.

The man, 70, and his wife, 63, claimed that the cannabis was for their son, who suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS). Under questioning, the woman also said she had never used the cannabis plants before.

Whether this is was genuine ‘medical marijuana’ defence remains to be seen. The use of the drug for medicinal purposes is still banned in Cyprus, despite ongoing attempts by the Green Party at raising awareness.

However, the case again illustrates that, where a genuine need for the well-documented pain-relief properties of cannabis does exist, people have to resort to using pot and risk going to jail.

The Pancyprian Association of People with Multiple Sclerosis says it currently has no position regarding the use of medical marijuana for the treatment of patients.

Association chairman Savvas Christodoulou told the Sunday Mail there were two reasons for this. First, the association itself lacks the resources to sponsor research to advocate such a policy.

The association is reliant on government funding and may be reluctant to rock the boat.

Second, no medical practitioners here – such as neurologists – have come out and taken a stand on the issue.

Without backing from respected physicians, and due to the legal and ‘ethical’ ramifications surrounding the use of marijuana, there is little the association can do.

“So far, our members have not raised the question of medical marijuana. Now, whether people actually use it is anyone’s guess,” Christodoulou said.

Likewise the Larnaca MS association says it has no official policy on the matter.

“But once the demand [for medical marijuna] arises, we will of course look into it,” said Maria Evripidou, an administrative officer with the Larnaca association.

An estimated 2,000 people in Cyprus suffer from MS.

Whereas medical marjiuana treatments are not available in the south, anecdotal evidence suggests people are getting it from the north.

About a year ago, the Greens organised a briefing before the House health committee on medical marijuana in general. A host of civil organisations, including the Pancyprian Association of People with Multiple Sclerosis, attended.

The Greens brought in an expert from Israel to talk on the subject. However, it degenerated into a fiasco, as various MPs began raising objections to the presentation. In the end, the Israeli expert never spoke.

One of the objections, apparently, was that the presentation was in English, even though a Greek translator was on hand.

It’s understood that these protestations were likely pretexts to quash the issue. The Mail is told that AKEL MPs, in particular, are vehemently opposed to the idea of medical marijuana.

At one point during the event, a frustrated woman in the audience got up and gave MPs an earful before storming out of the room.

It’s understood she told politicians something to the effect: “You are asleep. People with MS are already crossing to the north and getting medical marijuana there.”

Since then, not much has happened to advance the issue.

Inflammation of neural tissue is the primary characterisation of multiple sclerosis. MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune cells attack the central nervous system.

Cannabis is well-known to reduce inflammation, and has been used as an anti-inflammatory for thousands of years by physicians and herbalists the world over.

Recent studies found that an extract of cannabis taken in a capsule form can help relieve MS symptoms, such as muscle stiffness (spasticity) and spasms, and may also reduce pain. A mixture of cannabis extracts taken in spray form possibly reduces symptoms of spasticity, pain and bladder urgency.

To date, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States has approved two synthetic forms of marijuana for medical use, both available in capsule form.

These are processed, synthetic drugs. According to the literature online, smoked marijuana has not been adequately studied for safety and benefit.

At the start of this month, a bill for the cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp was adopted by the Cypriot Cabinet.

To avoid being used as a tool for illegal activities, the bill provides for the cultivation of industrial cannabis varieties that contain less than 0.2 per cent of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element in cannabis.

But the minister of agriculture in announcing the decision, made it quite clear that it was not a path to opening the way for medical marijuana, which he called “a complex subject” that was still under discussion with the health ministry.

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