C'tee head calls for more marijuana prescriptions

Health Ministry urgescautious approach to easing red tape, wants physician at every hospital to prescribe medical marijuana.

Marijuana 311 (R) (photo credit: Robert Galbraith/Reuters)
Marijuana 311 (R)
(photo credit: Robert Galbraith/Reuters)
A physician should be appointed at every general hospital in the country to prescribe medical marijuana and not just to relieve pain from cancer, Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee chairman MK Haim Katz (Likud) said on Sunday after a tour Friday of the Tikun Olam farm for growing medical marijuana.
Katz was shown all stages of production and a new species of cannabis developed by the company over a period of three years that does not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the principle psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The senior company staffers showed Katz the many security measures to meet the demands of the Israel Police for preventing the drug – whose use is illegal among those who have not been given a Health Ministry license – from getting into the wrong hands. In past Knesset committee hearings, some Israel Police representatives have said that there is a black market of medical cannabis obtained by healthy people for recreational use.
They also told Katz that providing medical cannabis to patients who have severe pain that does not react to conventional medications reduces costs to the health system not only by saving on pain relievers but also on special feeding techniques. The MK met cancer and Parkinson’s disease patients who said their condition was much improved by using medical marijuana.
There are only six physicians around the country authorized to give prescriptions to cancer patients, Katz said, and two more for alleviating other diseases that entail severe pain and suffering. He said he would immediately contact Health Ministry director-general Prof.
Ronni Gamzu and ask him to improve the situation. If not, Katz said he would promote a private member’s bill to make medical marijuana more available to those who legitimately need it.
It is unfair that only those patients in six hospitals can get the treatment, said Katz, even though “its efficacy is clear and well known. This is serious and unnecessary discrimination and causes patients much suffering.”
“In the first stage, it should be obtainable from every medical institution, and not only for cancer patients. In the second stage, I will work toward medical cannabis being prescribed in the usual way, like any other prescription drug without exhausting procedures.
Some have received authorization only after their deaths,” he continued.
The ministry, Katz concluded, must solve the bureaucratic failures that prevents the field of medical marijuana from developing.
“My committee will act to promote this subject in primary legislation if the ministry drags its feet,” he said.
Asked to comment, the ministry stated that the use of medical cannabis in Israel is “unprecedented and encompasses about 10,000 patients.
Despite its popularity, its efficacy has been proven only in a limited number of medical indications, such as for side effects of chemotherapy, certain aspects of multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and specific pain syndromes.”
The ministry added that in the last few months, the use of cannabis has undergone adjustments and arrangements by the government, including the writing of policy drafts on registration of prescriptions and for appealing decisions. It has also set down what examinations are necessary on the plants to ensure that the concentrations meet treatment standards, the ministry said.
Nevertheless, medical cannabis “does not have the status of prescription medications that must undergo a series of tests and trials requiring certain levels of purity. It can cause side effects that must be dealt with carefully. Making exceptions to the rules for medical use and creating shortcuts are liable to hurt the quality of treatment and patient safety,” the ministry said.
“The medical community continues to follow new developments and proof of treatment effects and will act in accordance with them to suit the regulations to medical needs.”