Hundreds of thousands of sick Ukrainians urgently need cannabinoids that are in the marijuana, but our deputies are in no hurry to make the necessary legislation. And someone even puts spokes in the wheels.

Children and soldiers need cannabis

Медичний канабіс і марихуана: коли легалізація?

A small kid Daryna Tkachenko suffers from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. This is a pharmacoresistant form of epilepsy. “Daryna suffers from more than ten epileptic seizures per day and traditional drugs do not help her,” says her mother Olha Tkachenko. ”These seizures had started when she was three months old and they still here for six and a half years.” Each seizure kills cells of the brain. It also goes along with the side effects of drugs. Because of this, Daryna is lagging behind: in her almost seven years she doesn’t walk, she can’t sit alone and even crawl. She can’t chew; she eats lying on her back and only blended food. The patient doesn’t speak, does not understand the meaning of the words and can’t explain what disturbs her.

Daryna takes two kinds of antiepileptic drugs and hormones, but it is still impossible to stop the attacks by 100%. When she was three, the girl had surgery to the brain, but it didn’t help. Unfortunately, any rehab means brain stimulation, and the number of seizures continues to increase. “Doctors say: we did everything we could,” Olha says. “But six months ago we learned that Lennox-Gastaut syndrome has been treated abroad for a long time by medical cannabis. And the results are very good.”

Olha had the hope that she would finally be able to cure her daughter, but it turned out that in Ukraine cannabis (or marijuana) is under total prohibition. “It can’t be brought even from neighboring Poland, where it has long been legalized, because in Ukraine it is a forbidden drug,” says the woman.” I believe that this is a direct violation of my daughter’s constitutional right to life, health, and access to effective treatment.”

Медичний канабіс і марихуана: коли легалізація?The story of an activist of the Ukrainian Association of Medical Cannabis, Kateryna Bybko, is even more tragic. Her son, who suffered a severe form of epilepsy (Dravet syndrome), died recently. “We tried different pharmaceuticals, harsh diets, but could not save him, because there was no access to the drug with cannabis,” she says. “Now I want to support all the mothers who haven’t lost hope for saving their children.”

Медичний канабіс і марихуана: коли легалізація?ATO veteran and Senior Lieutenant of the Medical Service of Ukraine’s Airborne Assault Force Svyatoslav Prokhorov believes that medical cannabis is a great help in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) of servicemen. “I talked with military doctors from the US, Canada, and Israel,” said Svyatoslav Prokhorov, ”and they convinced me that drugs based on medical cannabis (hemp) are the main means for treatment of PTSD.”

According to the doctor, currently, there are about 340 thousand participants of combat operations in Ukraine. According to statistics, about 80% of them may have PTSD, which leads to the collapse of families, alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicides. According to Anatoliy Matios, Chief Military Prosecutor of Ukraine, which was quoted by Svyatoslav Prokhorov, more than a thousand servicemen have already committed suicide today. The doctor urged the Ukrainians to support the petition “Legislative regulation of cannabis for science and medicine – protect the constitutional rights of citizens”, which is located on the website of the Verkhovna Rada. When this article was written, the petition has already collected two out of the 25,000 required votes in order to force our deputies to legislatively regulate the access of patients to cannabis-based drugs.

Decriminalization of small doses: Suprun vs. Bohomolets

Temporarily suspended from the duties of Minister of Health Ulana Suprun also urges to legalize medical cannabis and to sign a petition on the website of the Verkhovna Rada. She made this statement on January 31 this year on her Facebook page, so you can assume that this is the official position of the Ministry of Health. “Medical cannabis helps to relieve the suffering of patients and normalize the state of health in a number of serious diseases and conditions,” Ulana Suprun believes. “So its usage in medicine, of course, with certain reservations, is a normal world-wide practice. The access of patients to drugs based on cannabis is the realization of their right to medical care. It is important to support legalization of the medical cannabis use for scientific purposes and medicine.”

The MOH’s struggle for “legalize” is currently moving in two directions: the legalization of medical cannabis and the decriminalization of minor offenses related to drug possession. At first glance, they are not connected with each other, but in fact, they are: in its order Ministry of Health not only refers to marijuana, but also to pharmaceuticals made from it, that is, it’s about medical cannabis and cannabinoids.

Almost a year ago, the MOH tried to propose amendments to their own order №188 made in 2000, which concerned the circulation of narcotic substances in medicine. It was mentioned in particular that the largest amount of marijuana and pharmaceuticals made from it, can be legally stored by one person, in the amount of 25 grams. In March last year, the ministry hosted an online public discussion of this initiative. However, these amendments were never adopted. What’s the reason? The presence of a very influential opponent.

One of the greatest public critics of the amendment to this order was the People’s Deputy and chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Health Protection Committee Olha Bohomolets. On her Facebook page last April, she wrote that “Ukraine is under a threat of creeping drug legalization,” because the Ministry of Health is going to “increase cocaine legal storage standards by 50 times – from 0.02 grams to 1 gram, which at one dose of 0.15 gives us 7 doses! The legal standards for storage of heroin will increase by 60 times to 3 doses – from 0.005 grams to 0.3 grams at a single dose of 0.1 grams. Standards for acetylated opium will increase 200 times – from 0.005 grams to 1 gram. Standards for marijuana storage will increase to 12.5 doses or by 5 times – from 5 to 25 grams.”

And it was not the end for the people’s deputy Olha Bogomolets. In three days, she had started collecting signatures under the collective appeal of people’s deputies to Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman among parliamentary factions and groups, in order to make him forbid the introduction of amendments to the order of the Ministry of Health №188.

The Ministry of Health responded to Opinion’s request about the fate of amendments to this order the following way. On March 14, the draft order was sent for approval to the Ministry of Interior, the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the SBU, the National Police and the State Service for Drugs and Drug Control. All of them expressed their comments, the order was redrafted, but the Ministry of Justice didn’t like the new version again. The approval stage lasted until the end of 2018, and then on January 17, 2019, the MOH canceled its order. Therefore, the supporters of Olha Bohomolets have won.

The latest events related to the dismissal of the Minister of Health Ulana Suprun through the court and at the same time significant activation of presidential candidate Olha Bohomolets, clearly testify that this struggle is exacerbated.

Volodymyr Tymoshenko, the head of the Eurasian Institute of Drug Policy, said that the legalization of medical cannabis in Ukraine has not yet happened because of its demonization, that is, horror stories about dangerous consequences, an increase in drug addiction. “Journalists call it medical marijuana, which is not the right term,” explains Volodymyr Tymoshenko. “Marijuana contains cannabinoids that you need to extract from it, and only then they will be suitable for use because it is not marijuana that heals, it is pharmaceuticals that contain cannabinoids.”

To my mind, because of the persistent actions of Olha Bohomolets, deputies don’t want to develop and adopt new bills on medical cannabis. And the old bill by Oleh Musiy “On amendments to the Law of Ukraine” On narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, and precursors “(regarding the order of circulation of controlled substances)” from April 2016 has not been voted for. A representative of the NGO Ukrainian Association of Medical Cannabis Taras Ratushnyi explains this delay as follows: “This initiative wasn’t exactly by Oleh Musiy, but by the Government – it was made for the sake of implementation of the National Drug Policy Strategy.” And this state strategy considers cannabis as a medication in the long run. Taras Ratushnyi explained that the bill of Oleh Musiy was extremely unsuccessful and has now become outdated because of the subject identified to develop licensing conditions – the State Drug Control Service. In 2016 it was merged with the State Service of Medicines. As a result of this merge, now, the Musiy’s bill has to be rewritten, and the implementation of the National Drug Policy Strategy has stopped. “Even if this law had been adopted, there would be anybody to implement it now,” Taras Ratushnyi said. “And now the initiative to create a new law goes from below – from NGOs.” They are quite capable of writing a draft law independently and offer it to deputies for revision and approval.

To buy cannabis you need to go to Poland

How do they treat medical cannabis around the world? It is currently fully legalized in Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Lanka, Thailand, United Kingdom and Uruguay.

Медичний канабіс і марихуана: коли легалізація?

Picture: Map of the legislation on medical cannabis. Green – available with a doctor’s prescription. Blue – available without a prescription.

Other countries have certain restrictions on the use of certain forms of cannabinoids. For example, in France and Brazil, only Sativex is permitted. In countries such as Canada, Uruguay, and the Netherlands, cannabis can be bought without a prescription. In Mexico and Switzerland, manufacturers are obliged to ensure that there is no more than 1% of cannabinoid in the drug. In the US, the situation is a bit more complicated, because in each state they have their own rules.

As you can see, most of the advanced and developed countries have long legalized medical cannabis, which means that its presence in pharmacies is a sign of a modern state that is responsible for the health of its citizens.

By Oleh Shynkarenko

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