While in Annœullin, south of Lille, some shopkeepers have been selling therapeutic cannabis for a few weeks now, Health Minister Agnès Buzyn announced yesterday, Thursday 24 May, that therapeutic cannabis “could arrive in France”. But what are its health benefits? An update on current research.
In Annœullin, south of Lille, traders have been selling therapeutic cannabis for a few weeks. The marijuana-based products they offer (infusions, liquids for vaporizer or oils) have no psychotropic effect. They do not contain THC, the molecule that makes cannabis a drug. “Our products have no psychoactive effect and there is no addiction. On the other hand, CBD, or cannabidiol, has very beneficial effects on pathologies such as osteoarthritis,” Eloïse Masselot explains to Parisian Eloïse Masselot. In fact, her store is always full.
While the Minister of Health has announced that therapeutic cannabis “could arrive in France”, let’s take stock of research in this area. A recent study published in The European Journal of Internal Medicine has shown that therapeutic cannabis would be effective in treating pain in the elderly. 901 patients over 65 years old participated in this research. All of them suffered from pain related to cancer, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, ulcerative colitis (inflammatory bowel disease) or Crohn’s disease.
After six months of treatment with therapeutic cannabis, more than 93% of participants reported that their pain had decreased by 4 to 8 points on a scale of 1 to 10. More than 70% of patients said they felt an overall improvement in their condition.
Scientific data is lacking
Apart from this study, there is a lack of scientific data. In the United States, where the use of therapeutic cannabis is allowed in some states, almost half of the oncologists talk to their patients about the use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes without being sufficiently informed on the subject, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. 80% of the oncologists surveyed said they had already discussed the issue of therapeutic cannabis with their patients, but less than 30% of them felt they had enough scientific data to make such recommendations.
“The scientific evidence supporting the use of medical marijuana in oncology is still very thin, which puts physicians in a very uncomfortable position,” said Dr. Ilana Braun of the Dana-Farber Institute of Adult Psychosocial Oncology. To date, no randomized clinical trials have looked at the effects of medical marijuana in cancer patients, apart from its effects on nausea, so oncologists rely solely on research into the use of medical marijuana in the treatment of diseases other than cancer.
Launching the debate
Based on her information, Health Minister Agnès Buzyn said that “France has fallen behind in research on medical cannabis. There is no reason to exclude cannabis to treat these pains. It could happen in France”, Thursday 24 May on France Inter.
She said she had launched “the debate” with the institutions responsible for the development of drugs. “I asked the different institutions that evaluate drugs to give me the state of knowledge on the subject, because there is no reason to exclude, on the pretext that it is cannabis, a molecule that may be interesting for the treatment of certain very disabling pain,” she explained. I can’t tell you how fast we will develop it, but in any case, I am opening the debate with the institutions responsible for this development”, she continued.
The “unethical” nature of the prohibition of cannabis in a therapeutic context
In fact, the Minister of Health is merely formalizing a debate that is already open within France. This announcement comes after the recent referral of a patient on the “unethical” nature of the prohibition of cannabis in a therapeutic context. The Ethics and Cancer Committee should also soon examine this issue. Currently in France, only one cannabinoid drug has a marketing authorization: Sativex, recommended for spasticity and multiple sclerosis. You can also use Tko cart which consist of concentrated marijuana oils.
Dronabinol and cannabidiol, used for patients with neuropathic pain refractory to conventional treatments or epilepsy, are available, but only with a named temporary authorization (a procedure allowing a drug that does not have marketing authorization and is not the subject of a clinical trial in this indication to be made available to certain patients).