French Health Minister: Medical Cannabis Could Arrive in France

France’s health minister recently expressed her support of the arrival of medical cannabis in the country, where despite being legalized five years ago, it remains out of reach for patients.

Medical cannabis has been legal in France in 2013. Since that time, however, the only cannabinoid-based drug authorized for market has been Sativex , a THC-CBD oral spray approved in 2014 to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis. However, the high cost of the drug, and the French health authority’s low reimbursement rate for Sativex — 15 percent while other drugs for multiple sclerosis patients can be reimbursed for 80 percent — have effectively wiped out its potential use.

“I asked the various institutions that evaluate drugs to bring me back the state of knowledge on the subject” Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said during a May radio interview with France Inter . “Because there is no reason to exclude, on the pretext that it is cannabis, a molecule that may be interesting for the treatment of some very debilitating pains.”

She also pointed out the delay of France making medical cannabis readily available, though did not give an deadline.

“I can not tell you how fast we will develop it, but in any case, I opened the debate with the institutions responsible for this development,” she said in the French public radio channel’s interview.

Currently, two other cannabinoid-based drugs are allowed in France: Marinol, a synthetic THC prescription medicine used to treat nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy and appetite loss associated with weight loss in people with AIDS;, and Epidiolex, a CBD-based drug treating epilepsy for children and adults.

Despite Buzyn’s support for cannabis’ medicinal use, full support is not assured in France. Back in January, France’s finance minister Bruno Lemaire expressed his reservations in regard to softening France’s laws against smoking cannabis.

“This is my personal conviction: cannabis must not be legalised,” LeMaire said on “BFM Politique,” a political affairs program on news channel BFM TV. LeMaire admitted that France needed to evaluate their current policies, stating “On the other hand, we must take a good hard look at where we have gone wrong … we have the harshest laws in Europe, yet the highest consumption rates.”

There appears to be support amongst the medical community when it comes to giving cannabis’ therapeutic potential a chance. In 2015, addiction specialist Amine Benyamina expressed disappointment with cannabis’ stigma in an interview with newspaper Le Monde.  “It is a pity to condemn cannabis without having experienced it, or to draw conclusions from studies that do not meet quality standards, as it is often the case. In fact, the cannabinoids are part of these molecules that carry scientific and societal prejudices, while other drugs derived from narcotics (anesthetics based on cocaine-like molecules, opioid analgesics, etc.) with strong addictogenic potential, are accepted without problem.”

And as government officials continue to debate about cannabis policy, French citizens continue to use cannabis on a regular basis. A 2017 study conducted by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction found that 42 percent of adults ages 18 to 64 have used cannabis, and 11 percent are current users.

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