An increasing number of countries are adopting cannabis as a tool in fighting pain. The production of medical cannabis in the Netherlands has more than tripled in the last six years and the Dutch expertise is now being exported to Canada, Israel and the US. HEALTH travels to the secret location where the medicinal cannabis is produced to find out more.
The human body naturally produces chemical compounds similar to those found in the cannabis plant. They are vital to the health of our skin and are also effective in reducing pain.
In the Netherlands because people were going to local coffee shops and buying marijuana to help ease discomfort the Health Ministry decided it would be better to take take control over what exactly patients were inhaling. It decided to set up a production of clean cannabis to ensure that those who needed it could get a pure form of the plant.
Behind closed doors, hidden from the public a crop of Cannabis is grown. Only a handful of varieties are chosen on the basis of their chemical compounds. No pesticides are used here there are no chemicals in the soil. The plants grow naturally. It’s the flower of the plant that contains the active ingredients. Within roughly 20 weeks they are ready to be dried and processed.
For medicinal cannabis putting it in tea of inhaling it slowly are the recommended methods.
The inhaler costs around 300 euros to buy which can put some people off but the pharmacist at Bedrocan, the only company in the Netherlands that makes the health ministry approved cannabis, still see’s it as preferable. "The product goes into the lungs, the lung is a very large surface so its very easy for the cannabinoids, the chemical compounds, to go from there into the blood stream, there's no barrier here...is can travel fast," explains Lisette Wijnkoop.
Burning cannabis changes the compounds so it isn’t ideal as it increases side effects, such as feeling high, that most patients don’t want. Kees Ottens has suffered from MS for years and is now taking medicinal cannabis to ease the symptoms, notably the jerking. “I'm the same as everyone else, when I smoke cannabis I feel a bit stoned...BUT the jerking in my legs stop. That's why I accept to be in such a state. It allows me to sleep," he says.
The amount of cannabis to prescribe is not easy to determine which is why doctors are still reluctant to choose it. "Cannabis is not part of the protocol to treat MS or Cancer...and doctors like to follow protocol so they offer it when everything else has failed," say Jos Luers, a Pharmacist in Groningen. Today some 800 Dutch are prescribed cannabis out of a population of 17 million.
After looking at legal marijuana, Health turns to illegal antibiotics made in India. The pharmacy of the third world, 80% of AIDS medicines given to developing countries come from India. They are generic and cheaper than the trademark original. A lifeline to treatment for thousands but it’s currently under threat as global pharmaceutical companies push for the recognition of their patent protection.
India is the world's top producer and exporter of generic pharmaceuticals. The country does not recognise international drug patents. For more than 300 million Indians, cheap generic drugs are the only option they have in times of illness. But a free trade agreement between India and the EU that's currently under negotiation could cut off the supply.