Medical-grade cannabis products will likely be available to Israeli patients within the coming year, a Health Ministry official said Monday.
“I believe in the near future we are going to see the dream come true – my dream, your dream, the patient’s dream,” Yuval Landschaft, director of the Health Ministry’s Medical Cannabis Unit, said at a Tel Aviv conference. “I believe that in less than a year we are going to have medical-grade cannabis products.”
Addressing participants in CannaTech: Israel’s 3rd International Summit for Accelerating Cannabis Innovation, Landschaft stressed his belief that cannabis can become available in a manner similar to any other prescribed medication.
Alongside a variety of other policy-makers, academics and entrepreneurs, he spoke of the need to create a whole system – “the cannabis chain” – that oversees medical cannabis from growing to pharmacy.
“We believe that cannabis should be medicine like any other medicine,” Landschaft said. “We don’t mind how you use it – if you swallow it like any other pill or other ways of treatment.”
CannaTech brought together hundreds of researchers, industry stakeholders and policy experts from around the world to share knowledge, as well as position Israel as a cannabis research and development hub.
The conference was hosted by iCAN, an Israeli organization that aims to promote and mentor promising start-ups and innovators in the medical cannabis industry.
Within the Health Ministry, Landschaft told participants how he spearheaded the creation of “the Torah of cannabis” regulation. Landschaft’s “Torah of cannabis,” which he also dubbed “Cannacopia,” contains five sections on Israel Medical Cannabis: IMC-GCP, IMC-GAP, IMC-GMP, IMCGDP and IMC-GSP (Good Clinical Practice, Good Agricultural Practice, Good Manufacturing Practice, Good Delivery Practice and Good Safety Practice).
“We are going to have medical grade cannabis products here in Israel, we are going to prescribe it to the patients,” Landschaft said.
Just last week, 37 Israeli farmers received preliminary permits form the Health Ministry to construct facilities for the plant’s future cultivation, putting an end to years of legal struggles. While the farmers received these initial permits to build, they cannot yet have possession of cannabis itself – until their farms undergo quality and security checks, and additional permits are issued.
The granting of preliminary approvals to build farms occurred just a week-and-a-half after the cabinet authorized a plan to decriminalize marijuana use by first-time offenders.
While recreational use of marijuana remains illegal, medical cannabis has been legal in Israel since the 1990s.
However, because the Health Ministry defines cannabis as a “dangerous drug,” working with it requires a special license through the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance.
“We’re seeing medicalization and we’re seeing reform happening quicker than anywhere else,” said Saul Kaye, CEO of iCAN, the hosts of CannaTech.
“In general, it’s two steps forward, one step back.”
In Kaye’s opinion, medical cannabis is going to be legal all over the world in just a short period of time.
“It might take two years, it might take five years, but it will happen,” he said.
At CannaTech on Monday, iCAN announced a joint venture with the New York-based firm CannRx – initially a subsidiary of Jerusalem’s Izun Pharma Corp. – to bring to market a medication called ican.sleep, which hopes to be the first advanced sleep cannabis formulation.
The ican.sleep platform will incorporate CannRx’s CannTrap technology, which uses pharmaceutical-grade delivery systems to provide stable, controlled doses of cannabis.
One such delivery system that CannRx is promoting involves the inhalation of smoke vapor, while another employs fully water soluble, cannabis smoke in powder, which can be placed into an inhaler, explained Bill Levine, the company’s executive director.
“Think about when you light a joint. You light the end, you inhale the smoke and you expire – not right away,” he said, laughing. “But when half of that dose is coming out of your mouth, how much are you getting in?” Levine stressed the importance of personalized, precision dosing as a key element toward moving forward with the medical cannabis industry.
“The future is bright, the market is growing, but the standards and quality need to improve,” Levine said.
One person trying to improve the quality is Prof. David Meiri, head of the Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Cannabinoid Research at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
In Israel alone, there are at least 91 different cannabis strains that can be given to patients, Meiri said. For example, his lab found that one cannabis extract could kill breast and colon cancer cells but do nothing against prostate cancer, while another extract did exactly the opposite, he explained.
Meiri’s team is trying to determine which strains might be used to tackle different cancer cells and what cannabinoid compounds within the plant are responsible for the ability to kill these cells.
“There is a specificity between what is in the cannabis and what is affecting the cells,” Meiri said.
After a year of intensive work, Meiri said he and his colleagues have now successfully devised a method capable of identifying all the cannabinoids in a cannabis plant. What specific role these individual compounds might play is an entirely different question that has yet to be solved.
“We are not blind anymore,” Meir added. “We know nothing about what [they’re] doing, but we know what we have.”