Three misconceptions about medicinal cannabis

What are we talking about when we talk about medicinal cannabis?

The term ‘medicinal cannabis’ leads often to faulty assumptions and misconceptions. That’s why we think it’s important to make clear what medicinal cannabis actually is. In a series of short articles we present the most common misconceptions about medicinal cannabis, in order to speak the same language in discussions, news articles and so on.

All cannabis is suitable for medicinal use

There is a great difference between ‘medicinal cannabis’ and ‘cannabis for medicinal use’. That difference is all about the manner in which and the purpose for which the cannabis is produced. Medicinal cannabis is intended solely for patients and the production process is fully attuned to that purpose.

Production takes place in a fully standardised manner, in a pharmaceutical environment, and is subject to those stringent quality and safety standards. The production processes are designed so that the cannabis is genetically consistent, the proportion of active ingredients is consistent, and there is minimum risk of contamination (microorganisms, heavy metals, and no pesticides). The cannabis quality is tested by an independent laboratory. This way quality is guaranteed. Both the patient and doctor clearly know what is being prescribed.

Industrial hemp is medicinal too

Hemp belongs to the family of Cannabis sativa L. It contains cannabinoids and is sometimes used for ‘recreational’ or ‘medicinal’ purposes, although it is never produced under pharmaceutical conditions. When referring to hemp, this typically concerns ‘industrial hemp’; a sturdy agricultural crop with long, strong fibres.

It differs genetically from the medicinal cannabis species. Mainly used in clothing, paper, (animal) feed, and automobile industries, industrial hemp contains negligible or zero levels of THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis). This is why it may be legally grown in many countries under more relaxed regulations. Industrial hemp does however contain CBD. As a result it is sometimes also used for the production of CBD rich oils which are not for medical use.

Medicinal cannabis is expensive

The production of medicinal cannabis requires considerable investment. The production process must continuously comply with the applicable quality and safety requirements of medicines. Nonetheless, in the Netherlands – a programme designed to provide patients with acceptably priced pharmaceutical quality medicines was initiated in 2003 – it has proven possible to gradually reduce the price.

Indeed, the price for one gram of medicinal cannabis has remained below the average price for recreational cannabis in the Netherlands for some time. This was made possible due to industrial efficiencies, scalable production process, and – in more recent years – income from exports.

In 2018, the Minister for Public Health, Welfare and Sport – who is ultimately responsible for the Dutch medicinal cannabis programme – further reduced the price per gram. A patient today pays € 5.80 (net) at the pharmacy.

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