as Prescription Drug
The Netherlands became the world's first
country to make cannabis available as a prescription drug in pharmacies
to treat cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis patients, the Health
The Netherlands is making the drug widely available to chronically
ill patients amid pressure on countries like Britain, Canada,
Australia and the United States to relax restrictions on its supply
as a medicine.
Dutch doctors will be allowed to
prescribe it to treat chronic pain, nausea and loss of appetite
in cancer and HIV patients, to alleviate MS sufferers' spasm pains
and reduce physical or verbal tics in people suffering Tourette's
"From September 1, 2003 pharmacies
can provide medicinal cannabis to patients with a prescription
from a doctor. Cannabis has a beneficial effect for many patients,"
the Health Ministry said.
The Netherlands, where prostitution
and the sale of cannabis in coffee shops are regulated by the
government, has a history of pioneering social reforms. It was
also the first country to legalize euthanasia.
Two companies in the Netherlands
have been given licenses to grow special strains of cannabis in
laboratory-style conditions to sell to the Health Ministry, which
in turn packages and labels the drug in small tubs to supply to
As well as pharmacies, 80 hospitals
and 400 doctors will be allowed to dispense five-gram doses of
SIMM18 medical marijuana for 44 euros ($48) a tub and more
potent Bedrocan at 50 euros.
The Health Ministry recommends
patients dilute the cannabis -- which will be in the form of dried
marijuana flowers from the hemp plant rather than its hashish
resin -- in tea or turn it into a spray.
HIV SUFFERERS WELCOME MOVE
A British drug firm pioneering
cannabis spray medicine to give pain relief for multiple sclerosis
patients is hoping to launch the product in Britain later this
The association of HIV patients
in the Netherlands welcomed the government's move to make cannabis
available in high-street pharmacies.
"We are glad the government recognizes
that for some people it can improve the quality of life," said
Robert Witlox, managing director of HIV Vereniging. The association
has called on health insurers to cover the cost of the drug like
The government, which recognized
many chronically ill people were already buying cannabis from
coffee shops, said it should only be prescribed by doctors when
conventional treatments had been exhausted or if other drugs had
The government said it would start
distributing to pharmacies Monday. The Health Ministry's Office
of Medicinal Cannabis has a monopoly on wholesale distribution
of the drug, grown in laboratory-style conditions to ensure medicinal
The ministry estimates up to 7,000
people in the Netherlands have used cannabis for medical reasons,
buying it in coffee shops. It said this could more than double
once it was available from pharmacies in pure medicinal form.
Cannabis has a long history of
medicinal use. It was used as a Chinese herbal remedy around 5,000
years ago, while Britain's Queen Victoria is said to have taken
cannabis tincture for menstrual pains.
But it fell out of favor because
of a lack of standardized preparations and the development of
more potent synthetic drugs.
Critics argue that it has not passed
sufficient scientific scrutiny at a time when researchers are
trying to determine if it confers the medical benefits many users
claim. Some doctors say it increases the risk of depression and
Reference Source 89