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Marijuana for medical use sees slow take-up, investment in Cyprus

Displays at Shango Cannabis shop on first day of legal recreational marijuana sales beginning at midnight in Portland, Oregon

Doctors in Cyprus are still reluctant to prescribe medical marijuana due to lack of experience with the drug – this is despite the fact that its use is now legal for certain patient groups, government sources close to the Health Ministry told the Cyprus Mail on Wednesday. Meanwhile the market in Europe and the US is growing rapidly.

The hesitation of health professionals to prescribe the drug has limited its use and so investment in cultivation of medical cannabis has slowed as well. The law regulating medical cannabis provides for the licencing of three producers, but no licence has yet been issued.

Yet, in Europe, usage is growing rapidly, despite the issue of doctors’ lack of experience.

Data from Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices   show that medical cannabis imports increased by 16 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, and by 32 per cent in the second quarter. Such is the demand for medical marijuana in Germany, that the country was facing shortages. Vendors requested an additional ton of medical cannabis exports from the Netherlands as the country was facing supply shortages.

On the other hand, in Cyprus there is almost no market. “Doctors here lack the necessary training and experience with legal cannabis. One must have the knowledge to prescribe the exact dosage that the patient needs” an expert source close to the Health Ministry told the Cyprus Mail on Wednesday.

Educating doctors to prescribe medical cannabis is not just a Cyprus problem, however.  May 2019 study presented at the 2019 annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology found that the overwhelming majority of surveyed oncology providers believe that medical marijuana can help cancer patients. Thirty-three US states have legalised marijuana for medical uses. But, even in the US, a large number of doctors still do not feel qualified to prescribe it. So the issue is being dealt with all over the world.

The use of medical marijuana was approved in 2017 for advanced state cancer patients, while last year legal usage of cannabis was expanded to include chronic painful conditions associated with, among others, HIV, degenerative diseases of the motor system, rheumatism, neuropathy and glaucoma, Tourette’s syndrome and Crohn’s disease.

Cannabis industry groups are working to educate health professionals in the proper use of the drug.

One Cyprus doctor, Dr. Kyriakos Stylianides, has been an outspoken advocate of medical marijuana use for cancer patients. Dr. Stylianides, a palliative care doctor, has written about 200 prescriptions in the last three years. He argues that not many local doctors are convinced of the benefits of medical marijuana, largely because they have not worked with it.

There is also a lack of supply in Cyprus. It is reportedly difficult to for patients seeking the drug to obtain it even with a prescription. According to Stylianides, even some cancer patients can only get their hands on the drug when they are in the very final stages and they have already gone through intense chemotherapy.

As a result, eligible patients are forced to purchase cannabis from illegal sellers since there is no producer cultivating legal cannabis in Cyprus. “We remain trapped in the black market,” the patients association Friends of Cannabis group said on its website.  Gioula Pitsiali, representing the organisation “Embrace of Hope” for children with cerebral palsy and other types of paralysis confirmed this statement.

Not only there is no local producer, but no cannabis-based product has been authorised for distribution in Cyprus.

“Cyprus did not grant a marketing authorisation for any medicinal products that contain medical cannabis” the source close to the Health Ministry told the Cyprus Mail.

Instead, the minister grants an exception for individual patients whose doctors prescribed such product, allowing them to use a specific product the health ministry imports on the island, the source explained.

However, there is “an imperative interest” from many patients to use medical cannabis, as well as high interest from locals to begin cultivating the plant, revealed the government source, but no licenses have been issued and there is no concrete timeline on the progress of this industry.

Remaining positive, people from within the industry believe that in the next five years the industry will flourish and bring millions to the local economy.

It would be a shame if Cyprus does not soon take its share of this market.

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