In Israel, Booming Medical Marijuana Looks to Conquer New Highs
As hundreds of medical professionals, farmers, patients and cannabis activists descend on Israel this week for the Cann10 International Medical Conference from September 11 to 13, Israeli scientists are plowing ahead with new clinical trials in order to approve cannabis use for a wider variety of diseases.
Israel is a well-known internationally as a pioneer in medical cannabis. This summer, the government approved a plan initiated by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) to relax some of the medical cannabis requirements. The plan will expand the number of doctors who can issue cannabis prescriptions, remove limits on the number of marijuana growers, make cannabis available at approved pharmacies, and possibly eliminate the requirement for a permit from the Health Ministry so that just a doctor’s prescription will be sufficient.
“There’s no reason why someone who needs cannabis for medical reasons should suffer and confront unnecessary red tape, and therefore the present situation must be changed,” Litzman said in June, the Haaretz daily reported.
The Health Ministry’s move to make medical marijuana even more accessible is part of the country’s tolerance and even support for marijuana, especially in a medical context.
“This is the second [marijuana] conference in Israel in six months and it is evidence that Israel and the world are starting to wake up to what Israel can contribute to the cannabis industry,” said Clifton Flack, chief marketing officer for iCAN Israel-Cannabis, a private equity fund that focuses on cannabis.
“Our key contribution has been and will be research,” Flack added. “The story of the Israel cannabis industry began with research, with Prof. [Raphael] Mechoulam. For the past 50 years we’ve contributed to research. You are going to find that, under the hood, a big percentage of the global cannabis products or industry will somewhere have something Israeli.”
Today, there are approximately 23,000 patients who have medical marijuana prescriptions in Israel, up from 10,000 in 2012. That number will continue to rise as marijuana is approved to treat more ailments, with scientists racing to run high-level, double-blind clinical trials exploring medical uses of cannabis that can be published in major medical journals.
Currently, cannabis is undergoing clinical trials or approved for use to treat tinnitus, colitis, Crohn’s disease, some of the spastic symptoms of cerebral palsy pediatric patients, severe epilepsy in children, Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, autism symptoms like insomnia or aggressiveness, and some of the side effects of cancer treatment. Future trials include testing cannabis for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, post-traumatic stress disorder and eye inflammations.
Professor Raphael Mechoulam, previously at the Weizmann Institute and now at Hebrew University, is largely credited as the father of medical cannabis for identifying and identifying tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly known as THC) in 1964. THC is the active compound in marijuana that produces the “high” sought after by recreational users. Another main active compound in marijuana is cannabidiol (CBD), which has medical benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties.
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