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Where and how to get a prescription for medical cannabis in France?

Since 26 March 2021, tests on medical cannabis have started with patients suffering from several serious diseases such as epilepsy or neuropathic pain, as well as in specific situations such as for palliative care or in oncology. The aim is to help patients to relieve certain symptoms and especially to test the use of medical cannabis in other cases. In this article, we explain where and how to get medical cannabis prescribed in France.


What is medical cannabis for?

The use of medical cannabis aims to help patients free themselves from more or less intense symptoms as an accompaniment to their current treatments or because they have no treatment today capable of relieving them. Its field of application is wide since medical cannabis has many benefits and does not target a particular symptom.

Medical cannabis has analgesic, anti-vomiting, neuro-protective, antispasmodic, bronchodilator, antipsychotic, analgesic, anxiolytic, vasodilator, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, and appetite-activating effects. All these benefits help people suffering from chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, AIDS, anorexia, Alzheimer's disease, asthma, schizophrenia and glaucoma. It is also effective in relieving patients during chemotherapy, in palliative care, who are resistant to usual treatments or whose heavy treatment causes side effects.

More generally, medical cannabis helps with sleep disorders, migraines, depression, inflammation, movement disorders, vomiting, addictions, loss of appetite, anxiety and pain. Therefore, medical cannabis can also be a solution for elderly people or people with several disorders at the same time without having a suitable treatment.

An unprecedented experimentation of medical cannabis in France

From 26 March 2021, 3,000 patients have been selected to take part in a medical cannabis experiment for 2 years. They have been chosen according to their illnesses or medical situation and are being monitored by a reference centre selected by the Medicines Agency. For the moment, no children are present in the experimentation, but it is possible that in the future they will be included to extend the tests.

Another selection criterion for this experiment is that no treatment had to be effective beforehand. Also that these patients do not suffer from cardiovascular diseases, psychosis or schizophrenia, as therapeutic cannabis can have adverse effects due to the presence of THC.

In this test, cannabis in the form of oil or inhalation was prescribed. Mostly, the most proposed products are to be used orally and in liquid form because they are the easiest to dose. They can therefore be adapted during the course of treatment, depending on the patient and their problems. All these products are tested to meet specific criteria and correspond to therapeutic use. In the future, prescriptions may extend to dried flowers for use with a vaporiser, but they cannot be smoked.

Who can participate in this experimentation?

The patients selected for this experiment are volunteers who have undergone a consultation in a reference centre of the Medicines Agency. There they will be prescribed medical cannabis according to their symptoms, diseases and disorders. Afterwards, they will be able to collect their medicines from the pharmacy.

This system, in addition to testing the effectiveness of medical cannabis, allows the entire circuit from consultation to actual use of the products to be verified. If it proves to be functional and positive, it will prove that it is possible to envisage a generalisation of medical cannabis in France. For this to happen, it must be easy to follow and similar to the prescription of a traditional medicine. Initially, only hospital pharmacies have a stock to supply these prescriptions. Subsequently, each patient's regular pharmacist can be notified to obtain permission to have their own stock. To further facilitate the process, general practitioners will also be able to continue prescribing medical cannabis after undergoing specific training.

Finally, to differentiate between holders of conventional cannabis and those who are part of this experiment, the latter will have a special authorisation to prove that they are within the law. Namely, these patients will not be able to drive during the whole experimentation period since some products contain THC. They will also have to undergo a follow-up consultation every month to check the effectiveness of the system and the therapeutic cannabis.

Today, is it possible to be prescribed medical cannabis?

During the experiment that started on 26 March, if a patient decides to stop taking the medical cannabis treatment, then they will be replaced by another person. Moreover, even if the duration of this experimentation is 2 years, it is mainly the analysis of the prescription system that will be tested during these two years. As far as the patients are concerned, they have to follow a treatment for at least 6 months, so they can be replaced after this period. It is thus quite possible to join the experimentation along the way, but places are very limited.

Through this experimentation, the health services aim to adapt the prescription system in order to generalise medical cannabis in the future. As the evaluations and the different results of this test are made, adjustments will be made until the process is perfected.

Beware, CBD should not be confused with medical cannabis. While the former is now legal in France and free to buy, the latter, as we have just seen, is in the experimental phase. Despite the fact that they are similar, especially as they are not considered as a medicine, it is important to know how to distinguish between them.

CBD as an alternative to medical cannabis

If you can't get a prescription for medical cannabis, you can still get some similar effects by using CBD. CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid molecule extracted from hemp. It is not considered a drug because, unlike THC, it has no psychotropic effect. It is a natural product and therefore has greenhouses similar to therapeutic cannabis such as anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.

CBD can therefore be used against pain, particularly chronic pain, arthritis, migraines, intense periods or back problems. In addition to its benefits on the body, it also helps to mentally feel better, as it helps to fight against anxiety, panic attacks and anxieties. Remember that CBD should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment, so you should speak to your doctor if you have intense and recurring symptoms. CBD may relieve some aches and pains, but it will not cure them.

You now know the difference between medical cannabis and CBD. Both have recently become legal in France, providing relief to patients or users, one by prescription, the other over the counter. Gradually, as the use of cannabis and CBD becomes more widespread, it is possible to hope for a generalisation so that more people can enjoy their benefits.

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