Germany Allows Patient Legal Use of Cannabis | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 21.08.2007

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Germany Allows Patient Legal Use of Cannabis

A patient suffering from multiple sclerosis has been legally allowed to buy cannabis at the pharmacy under strict conditions. It's the first time Germany has permitted the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

In 2003, Dutch pharmacies began selling small amounts of cannabis on prescription

In 2003, Dutch pharmacies began selling small amounts of cannabis on prescription

Germany' Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Tuesday that the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices for the first time approved the application of a 51-year-old woman suffering from multiple sclerosis to legally buy cannabis from a pharmacy to ease her symptoms.

The approval is linked to strict restrictions, but starting at the end of August, the woman, Claudia H, is allowed to buy a "standardized extract" from the cannabis plant from the pharmacy for a year. A doctor has to monitor the therapy. In addition, both the patient and the pharmacy have to store the drug extracts in a safe so to prevent theft.

Cannabis shown to ease pain

According to the Munich-based paper, several scientific studies show that cannabis can ease pain and spasms often associated with multiple sclerosis, a debilitating nerve ailment. It's also known to prevent weight loss among cancer and AIDS patients.

Extracts of the cannabis plant are used for medicinal purposes

Studies have show that extracts from the cannabis plant have medicinal properties

So far, cannabis has been illegal in Germany -- only possession of small amounts of the drug are allowed -- and its use for medicinal purposes limited to scientific studies and aims that "are in the public interest."

Doctors so far can only prescribe the synthetically-produced Dronabinol, which is an active ingredient in cannabis. But since the substance isn't approved as a medicine in Germany, the medicine's costs aren't covered by health insurance. In contrast, the price of the direct cannabis medicine is expected to be much cheaper.

Cannabis remains illegal

In 2005, a court ruling threw into question the complete ban on cannabis for medicinal purposes. The German Federal Administrative Court ruled that the health of individual patients also lay in "the public interest." That means that the Bonn-based Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices now has to consider each application for use of cannabis for medicinal purposes on a case-by-case basis.

Despite Tuesday's landmark decision to allow cannabis for treatment, the drug remains illegal in future. Patients who acquire it on their own risk prosecution. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported of a case last week when a local court sentenced a hepatitis-C patient for possession of cannabis to a year in prison without bail.

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