The number of physicians allowed to prescribe medical marijuana will be raised from nine to 20 by the end of this year, Likud MK Haim Katz said on Monday.

Katz, who chairs the Knesset Labor, Social Welfare and Health Committee, said during a raucaus session that a subcomittee will be formed to discuss patients groups’ demands to receive medical cannabis more easily to relieve pain and other side effects of serious illness.

Cannabis is used by sufferers of chronic ailments, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder to combat pain, insomnia, lack of appetite and other symptoms.

The Health Ministry will receive recommendations from the subcommittee, while the ministry will provide it with ongoing reports to ensure that “all patients who need it will get it. If there is a need, we will solve the problem through legislation.

We want those who deserve it to get it, while those who are not entitled not to get it.”

There is concern among the law enforcement authorities that less rigorous control of medical marijuana could lead to illegal supplies flooding the general market and being obtained for nonpalliative use.

Health Minister Yael German and ministry directorgeneral Prof. Ronni Gamzu said that the 11,000 patients who receive medical cannabis will continue to do so according to existing regulations and procedures, even if their illnesses are not included in new categories that the ministry has announced. New patients who have medical conditions not listed as eligible will have to apply as exceptional cases, and their requests will be considered.

Ministry officials said that this was a temporary procedure until the use of medical cannabis is arranged officially.

MKs Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu), who has a relative who needs medical marijuana, said medical specialists should be able to decide whether patients need cannabis.

“Have you fallen on your heads? It’s important. It’s vital, and you’re taking it from patients. I don’t know if it’s lack of sensitivity or evil or other interests,” said the Likud Beytenu MK.

MK Miki Rosenthal (Labor) identified himself as having a condition that has required him throughout most of his life to use narcotic drugs for pain.

“Because of a small group of people who used it even through they are not eligible, we have all become suspect in the eyes of the Health Ministry. It’s terrible!” he declared.

Zvi Hendel, chairman of the Israel Anti-Drug Authority, said he didn’t want Israel to be the highest-ranking country per-capita in regards to medical cannabis use.

Many countries have made it legal, but most of them reversed this position, he said.

TV personality Avri Gilad said that his father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, screamed day and night reliving the arrival of the Gestapo at his home.

“Then I met Alzheimer’s patients who smiled. There is arrogance by the state that comes and takes from patients’ mouths the medication that helps them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tel Aviv University researchers who studied mice have found that extremely low doses of marijuana’s psychoactive component – THC or tetrahydrocannabinol – can protect the brain before and after injury.

Although it is a well-known “recreational drug,” extensive scientific research has been conducted on the therapeutic properties of marijuana in the last decade.

Prof. Yosef Sarne of TAU’s Adelson Center for the Biology of Addictive Diseases at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine said that the drug has neuroprotective qualities as well. He has found that extremely low doses of THC protect the brain from longterm cognitive damage in the wake of injury from hypoxia (lack of oxygen), seizures or toxic drugs. Brain damage can have consequences ranging from mild cognitive deficits to severe neurological damage.

Previous studies focused on injecting high doses of THC within a very short time frame – about half an hour – before or after injury.

Sarne’s current research, published in the journals Behavioral Brain Research and Experimental Brain Research, demonstrates that even extremely low doses of THC – around 1,000 to 10,000 times less than that of a conventional marijuana cigarette – administered over a week before or one to three days after injury can “jumpstart” biochemical processes that protect brain cells and preserve cognitive function over time.

This treatment, especially in light of the long-term time frame for administration and the low dosage, could be applicable to many cases of brain injury and be safer over time, Sarne wrote.

While performing experiments on the biology of cannabis, Sarne and his colleagues discovered that low doses of the drug had a big impact on cell signalling, preventing cell death and promoting growth factors.

This finding led to a series of experiments designed to test the neuroprotective ability of THC in response to various brain injuries.

In the lab, the researchers injected mice with a single low dose of THC either before or after exposing them to brain trauma. A control group of mice sustained brain injury but did not receive the THC treatment.

When the mice were examined three to seven weeks after initial injury, recipients of the THC treatment performed better in behavioral tests measuring learning and memory.

The use of THC can prevent long-term cognitive damage after brain injury, the researchers concluded.

One explanation for this effect is pre- and post-conditioning, whereby the drug causes minute damage to the brain to build resistance and trigger protective measures in the face of much more severe injury. The low dosage of THC is crucial to initiating this process without causing too much initial damage, Sarne said.•

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