By Annette Chrysostomou
A 19-year-old cancer patient made three requests to receive medical cannabis but permission to use the drug was only given by the health minister a few days before he died.
The young man who died last Saturday had supported his requests with medical evidence as well as a doctor’s prescription as he needed the medicine for pain relief while receiving chemotherapy. As the use of medical cannabis is not allowed in Cyprus, he appealed directly to the health minister. The Cyprus Mail asked the health ministry why it took so long to sign the request.
“From August, when the new minister of health became aware of the issue, efforts were made to find a way to authorise the medical use of cannabis, and permission was given a few days before the death occurred,” a ministry official said. “Unfortunately, I cannot comment on the handling of the matter by the former minister of health.”
According to Kyriakos Veresies, scientific director of antidrug association KENTHEA, there are no statistics on how many people make such requests in Cyprus. However, he said that confusion about cannabis use is ripe. People often lump the three uses of the drug – industrial, recreational and medical – together, while there are in fact many differences.
“The public is not aware that it has been proven by research and many double blind tests that the medical use is in favour of patients,” he explained. In fact, Veresies said, there are now ten medical products which are in use around the world, but are banned in Cyprus.
They are not administered to heal patients, but to relieve the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and other neurodegenerative diseases, vomiting caused by chemotherapy, chronic pain and more. Cannabinoid medicines exist in pill form and as sprays.
Though they are not allowed in Cyprus, industrial cannabis is. A bill for the cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp was adopted by the Cabinet in September. To avoid being used as a tool for illegal activities, the bill provides for the cultivation of cannabis varieties that contain less than 0.2 per cent of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element in cannabis.
KENTHEA approves of the industrial cannabis, as growing it doesn’t do any harm and may even help the economy. It has many uses, including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, and fuel.
The antidrug association is very much against the recreational use of cannabis. This substance is derived from cannabis varieties which are very different from those used in medicines and in industries. In recent years, very high quantities of THC, 20 to 25 per cent, are part of these drugs. Their intake can lead to psychosis, depression and anxiety in people. Due to the increase in THC the amount of people who have been admitted to psychiatric institutions under court orders has trebled recently, neurologist and psychiatrist Veresies noted.
As well as the antidrug association, the Green Party has been trying to raise awareness on medical cannabis.
“We were the first to speak out on this,” spokeswoman Eleni Chrysostomou said. “We raised a huge campaign years ago.”
“The government should get over this taboo about cannabis,” she continued. “They should join the rest of the world which has used cannabis in medicine for years. There is a law in Cyprus that cannabis is a drug and the government needs to fix that as the plant used for medical purposes is much different from the one present in recreational drugs.”
“It has been proven that it eases pain in long term diseases. It is a pity this young man died while he was waiting for the approval of the ministry,” she concluded.