Medical cannabis is currently a topic of debate in the small Mediterranean country of Malta, where the authorities have allowed a synthetic form of CBD oil to be prescribed to sufferers of chronic pain as a last resort.
While this sounds like a positive move for a country that is fairly progressive in its stance on cannabis, the inflated price and limited availability of this lab-made oil could make it particularly difficult for most of the population to get their hands on it.
Legality Of Cannabis In Malta
Malta is a traditionally liberal country when it comes to cannabis. Although recreational use is illegal, medical cannabis was partially legalized during a 2015 government reform, citizens are permitted to cultivate up to one plant, and the possession of small amounts of cannabis goes widely unpunished.
There has also been recent talk among politicians from at least three different political parties about following in the footsteps of countries such as Portugal and Canada, where cannabis laws have been relaxed, in order to take the trade out of the hands of criminals.
Not One Patient Treated
Although many positives can be taken from these developments, things aren’t quite as they seem. As reported by Malta Today in July, since the partial legalization of medical cannabis in 2015, in which the medicine was to be prescribed for sufferers of chronic pain if they believe there is no viable alternative treatment, not one patient has been treated with it.
This is because the only form which has been licensed up until now – the mouth spray Sativex from UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals – is not stocked in any Maltese pharmacy. A number of pharmacies are thought to have attempted to import the sublingual THC and CBD spray but have failed due to unknown reasons.
To further confuse matters, a Maltese doctor who had recently started treating his patients with CBD oil – with great results – has now been banned from doing so as natural CBD oil is still illegal in the country.
Synthetic CBD Oil
Now, a family doctor named Andrew Agius, who runs a Pain Clinic in Paola, has been informed by the Medicines Authority that it has agreed to license a synthetic form of CBD oil. Aside from the natural/synthetic debate, a few problems have already arisen following this announcement.
First of all, the man-made medicine can only be obtained from one pharmacy, the Lantern Pharmacy in Santa Venera, and patients can only be prescribed it by one oncologist – a certain Nick Refalo, who is also a former politician who ran in the last general election.
Second, the oil will not be cheap. In fact, for a 20ml bottle of 5% CBD oil, the cost will be a staggering €700, or €1,500 for the 10% version. This makes it around 10 times more expensive than most natural forms of CBD oil available in the EU.
This move by the Medical Authority makes synthetic CBD oil the second legal form of medical cannabis in Malta. And with talk among political party leaders surrounding the legalization of recreational cannabis, it seems that Malta is on the right track to implementing a sensible and progressive cannabis landscape.
However, upon closer inspection, it is clear that much has still to be attended to in order to bring medical cannabis into the hands of the people who need it before plans of recreational legalization can be formulated.
So far, the country has let down patients in need. 2015’s partial legalization of medical cannabis has been a failure and it looks like the medicine will remain beyond the reaches of the majority of the population for the foreseeable future – much like in Greece, where, despite recent medical legalization, bureaucracy and red tape make the reality of accessing the medicine extremely difficult.
In the meantime, some will go without while some will purchase unregulated products from potentially scrupulous online vendors. So, let us hope that sense prevails and the authorities take steps to fix the Maltese medical cannabis system so that those in need can access the valuable medicine.[Image credit- Wikipedia.Commons]