On 28 May the French Senate gave the permission to begin experimentation with the use of therapeutic cannabis, but will the health ministry give the green light?
Therapeutic cannabis may soon be legally available in France to hundreds of thousands of patients suffering from serious pain caused by illness. According to patient groups, somewhere between 300,000 and 1 million patients could be eligible to its use.
“There will be about two years of experimentation with therapeutic cannabis, beginning as soon as the health ministry gives the green light,” Professor Nicolas Authier, the head of pharmacology at Clermont-Ferrand University Hospital Centre’s pain clinic, told French international news and current affairs television network, FRANCE 24.
Evaluating the efficacy of therapeutic cannabis
Authier heads the committee of experts charged by the National Agency for the Safety of Health Products of evaluating the practical arrangements for the distribution of medical cannabis.
According to Jean-Baptiste Moreau LREM’s (The Republic on the move) MP, the experiment “will be set up very quickly in the coming weeks.”
“The challenge is ensuring a French supply chain for the production [of these pharmaceutical products]”.
He hopes his district of La Creuse, where elected officials are trying to boost the local economy and asked in 2018 for a government’s permit to cultivate and produce medical-grade cannabis, will benefit from it.
The potential of medical cannabis in France
“For the moment, medical cannabis production is not authorised in France,” said Authier.
“[The crops] will be grown in closed fields or greenhouses and will require significant investment. We will have to control the temperature, humidity and sunshine. It isn’t conventional agriculture”.
During the trial period, which could last until mid-2021, Authier explains: “We will probably need to import pharmaceutical products [from countries where medical cannabis is legal] until a French supply chain is set up”.
French producers will not only need to learn to grow the crop but to comply with European rules for producing medicine of a consistent quality.
Worries of medical cannabis being a ‘Trojan horse’
The use of medical cannabis will be strictly controlled. Doctors will be permitted to prescribe it only as “a last resort, after trying other available therapeutic [pain] treatments”, said Authier.
“We will probably need to widen the scope of eligible illnesses,” Senator Esther Benbassa (of the Greens party), who opened the Senate debate on 28 May.
Senators of the Républicains party are worried that medical cannabis is a ‘Trojan horse’, the beginning of a slippery slope towards legalising cannabis for recreational use.
However Authier explains: “There is little risk that medical cannabis will be abused for recreational purposes.
“It has different users with different objectives. Those who take codeine for pain and those who smoke opium are taking the same substance, but they don’t have the same purpose. Similarly, medical-grade cannabis will not satisfy those looking for psychoactive effects.”
“Therapeutic cannabis is not a drug, it is medication,” adds Authier. “The question of legalisation won’t come up before 2021, and only following this experiment.”
Nevertheless, Moreau concludes: “For now, we are talking about medical cannabis, but eventually we will have to consider wellness cannabis [oils, vitamins and supplements with very low levels of THC].”