Israel has been a world leader in medical marijuana, from the discovery of THC in 1964 by Israeli researcher Dr. Raphael Mechoulem to the over 22,000 medical marijuana patients in Israel today with a cannabis permit from the Health Ministry. But now pain clinics in Israel are under fire for not providing medical cannabis to patients that the clinics believe are faking their condition to acquire marijuana for recreational purposes.
The Association for Medical Cannabis Treatment in Israel is threatening to sue the clinics that refuse to offer medical cannabis. “I speak to patients all day,” says Karnit Yedid, head of the AMCT. “Their pain is unbearable and they have no way to get medical cannabis treatment.”
In order to get a cannabis permit from the Health Ministry for chronic pain, a patient in Israel must undergo treatment at a registered pain clinic for a year and exhaust all other methods of pain control, including use of addictive, hepatotoxic opioid painkillers and risky surgical procedures. Such appointments and treatment can cost well over the equivalent of $1,000 each year. There are 7,350 such chronic pain patients with cannabis permits today in Israel.
The clinics maintain that as the gatekeeper for legal cannabis access, many of the clients seeking their services are merely going through the motions in order to get cannabis for personal purposes. Some clinics are just refusing to see any pain patients who express an interest in medical cannabis, with large signs in their windows, telephone messages, and disclaimers on paperwork. The clinics contend they are already so overwhelmed with the current cannabis users renewing their prescriptions that a new patient seeking cannabis treatment can’t find the time to see their doctors.
Israel’s Health Ministry announced this summer that they would be increasing the number of physicians authorized to recommend medical cannabis without having to have the patient certified through the ministry’s medical cannabis unit. The Ministry also announced that medical cannabis access would soon be handled through pharmacies, rather than dispensed directly by a small group of authorized growers like Tikun Olam, one of the leading medical cannabis companies in the world.
“Today, pharmacies give all kinds of other drugs, like morphine; there’s order in that and we’ll make order in this, too,” announced Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. “It will be standard, like a drug.”
Miki Ofer, of The Pharmaceutical Society of Israel, explained why her organization supports the pharmaceuticalization of cannabis. “There must be complete separation between the growers and the distribution network for cannabis. Nowhere in the world is a drug or medical device supplied to patients by the manufacturer. Accordingly, medical marijuana must be sold in authorized pharmacies, like any other drug. [Growers] don’t know what other drugs the patient is taking and what interactions there might be. When cannabis will be supplied by pharmacies, the pharmacists can explain the side effects and possible interactions to the patients.”