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France gives go-ahead to cannabis-based drug

GW Pharmaceuticals

France’s health ministry announced Thursday it had approved the use of Sativex, a cannabinoid mouth spray, to treat patients suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). The drug is the first marijuana-based medicine to be made available in the country.

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While the decision to approve Sativex may seem revolutionary for France, the prescription of the drug will be extremely limited. The spray will only be recommended for MS patients with “severe muscle spasms (spasticity), resistant to other treatments,” according to the health ministry, which also specified that only neurologists and physical therapists will have the right to prescribe it at first.

Once on the market, Sativex can prescribed for up to six months, the national health monitoring agency (which approved the drug and set its conditions of use) told French daily Le Monde in a statement. The medication will be available at pharmacies, where it will be stocked in a safe with other opiate-based drugs.

French Health Minister Marisol Touraine first raised the issue of approving cannabis-based medications in June, when she signed an order authorising the national health agency to look at requests to commercialise such products. Although many countries – including Holland, Canada, Germany, Britain and even some US states – already allow the use of medical marijuana, France has been hesitant to embrace the drug’s therapeutic properties until now.

Sativex, which is made by the British company GW Pharmaceuticals and has already been approved in more than 20 countries, still has a few hoops to jump through before hitting the French market. It must go through the country’s highest health body before a price and reimbursement rate can be decided. The drug is expected to be made available in 2015.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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