On November 24th, the European Parliament in Brussels hosted its first international conference on medical cannabis. Cannabis experts, doctors, patients and representatives of the cannabis industry in Europe gathered to attend the three hour event.
It was an icy cold day and my car informed me that it was -4 degrees Celsius as I made my way into Brussels. Thankfully, the sun was shining. Colleagues (as we all work for the plant) and friends that I have been picking up along the way from the cannabis industry were converging in “the belly of the beast” to have a sensible conversation as to how medical cannabis is going to work in Europe.
Responsibility to provide safe access
Saul Kaye, CEO of iCan, couldn’t have summed the situation up better: “It’s not a matter of if, but when and how you make safe medical cannabis available in Europe. The industry is coming and it will make a lot of money. Not giving patients access to cannabis is negligence on behalf of regulators and they have a responsibility to provide this safe access, not to block it.”
Opening the conference, MEP Stelios Kouloglou spoke of how cannabis leads to economic growth. “Cannabis is the fastest growing sector of the US and Israeli economies. The EU has been left behind.” With regards to health he said, “We want to save lives, we know cannabis can help with many serious diseases. We shouldn’t act like we are in the dark ages and be guided by outdated laws from last century but must be guided by science.”
Introducing the first of two panels, Graham De Barra of Help not Harm, an organization supporting a realistic, evidence-based approach to drug policy in Ireland, reminded us that “we must integrate people into health services and away from the harmful black market”.
Doctors in the house
Well represented on the panels of the day were practitioners who had positive results with medical cannabis for their patients. Dr. Dominique Lossignol, who is a specialist in cancer and pain treatment, prescribes medical cannabis to patients in Belgium. He explained that the human body produces a huge amount of cannabinoids and that “there is a gap in our current medicine, and that gap is cannabinoids. We need them for the best treatment of pain.”
Dr. Franjo Grotenhemen, President of the International Association for Cannabinoids as Medicine and Chairman of the Medical Cannabis Declaration in Germany spoke of our “fundamental human right to good health.” Dr. Grotenhemen, who was speaking from a hospital stretcher for reasons that were not mentioned, said, “Patients have the right and the ability to treat themselves and we don’t allow it.”
He concluded with a powerful statement that makes things so clear, “Patients should have the right to access cannabis and doctors should have the right to prescribe it.”
“The next revolution in medical cannabis is science,” explained Pavel Kubu, Director of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute. He described the work of ICCI in “unlocking the database of nature” through the utilisation of big data and tools and the work of ICCI in providing Patient Focused Certification across Europe.
Globally we have made so many gains in recent years under extremely restrictive conditions, yet we are not even scratching the surface of the benefits that this amazing plant can offer. Imagine how things will change when we allow our great institutes of science to explore cannabis further as they see fit.
Patient patience is running out
Listening to politicians, doctors and scientists is great, but you have to remember it is patients from all ages and walks of life who are suffering due to the dis-harmonisation of laws and regulations across Europe when it comes to medical cannabis and cannabis research.
Patient testimonials snap us right back into the reality and the urgency of the situation we are in. People are literally dying because they cannot get access to cannabis through their health systems.
One panellist spoke of patients dying with their medical cannabis prescription in hand without ever obtaining their medicine. This is the cruel consequence of global law’s inability to catch up with knowledge that is spreading around the world at the speed of a mouse click; doubly so as the laws were put into place under suspect circumstances.
CBD for Ava
We heard from several patients and caregivers on how cannabis has helped their situation. By far the most moving account was from a brave mother of four, Vera Twomey from Barry in Ireland. Vera’s little girl Ava suffers from dravet syndrome – which is a severe form of epilepsy that affects an estimated 1 in every 20,000–40,000 births. There was not a dry eye in the forum as Vera described how she was told that her baby would never talk or walk. Vera described how specialists had laughed at her when she dared to suggest her child would walk.
She recalled how seven seizures every two hours would cripple the body of poor Ava. As soon as she was able to get her daughter CBD oil the seizures had reduced to only seven in one entire month. That’s a whopping 92% decrease. She’s now attending school and walking, talking and even dancing. I tell you, put lovely Vera in the room with all those standing in the way of legal, medical cannabis-derived products getting to the patients that need them, and things will soon be resolved.
At the time of this writing, Vera’s petition to the Irish Minister of Health is just shy of the 25,000 signatures it needs. If you have a heart, please sign.
Homegrown is not medicine
I learned that there is and needs to be a distinction between homegrown and medical cannabis. Medicine is not easy to bring to market and there are many mechanisms to ensure safety. The level of cleanliness and documentation that goes into creating the medicine you get from your pharmacy goes beyond what many can possibly imagine.
Though often jeered at from the cannabis community, Bedrocan actually offers dried cannabis flower that adheres to the necessary requirements needed to get a “drug” distributed through existing pharmacies. Even in Germany – where strict adherence to regulations is an art form. That is a major achievement for the Dutch company.
Decriminalising the ability for someone to grow their own plant is not providing them medicine. You can produce aspirin from the bark of a willow tree, but how would you react if your doctor gave you a prescription telling you to do just that?
Human rights are being seriously abused here and we urgently need to collectively work towards a system that gives people safe access to cannabis.
Closing the conference, MEP Stefan Eck spoke of how a topic that had once been so taboo is now provoking so much conversation. He said, “Cannabis has been used for centuries and it is time to legalise now for use in Europe.”
The amount of panelists and speakers within such a short timeframe was intense, to say the least. It was like a three day medical and scientific conference had sex with a speed dating event and gave birth to this conference in the EU Parliament, which transpired over a few short hours. Though a little manic in speed the end result left me feeling very optimistic on cannabis being – at the very least – available to those who need it most in as safe a manner as possible.