Medical cannabis shortage has left patients in the dark

ReLeaf activist Andrew Bonello told MaltaToday a delay in the renewal of licenses to import medical cannabis was behind the shortage

In Dutch pharmacies, medical cannabis retails for €6 a gram; in Malta, it sells for €16 per gram. A prescription of 2 grams a day sets a patient back €960 per month, upwards of €11,000 a year
In Dutch pharmacies, medical cannabis retails for €6 a gram; in Malta, it sells for €16 per gram. A prescription of 2 grams a day sets a patient back €960 per month, upwards of €11,000 a year

Need pain relief? Pharmacists are unlikely to change your prescription for Catafast to Panadol. Yet this is the situation for those prescribed medical cannabis brands in Malta, as a shortage is forcing them to switch to weaker medications.

The cannabis advocacy group ReLeaf has highlighted a current shortage in medical cannabis brands Bedrocan and Pedanois, claiming to have received “distress calls” on out-of-stock medications.

Bedrocan and Pedanios are potent brands of medical cannabis, whose THC content – the primary psychoactive element in cannabis which also helps in reducing pain – is at 22%. But for neuropathic pain patients, the sole alternative medication available in pharmacies is Bediol, with a THC level of only 6.3%.

ReLeaf activist Andrew Bonello told MaltaToday a delay in the renewal of licenses to import medical cannabis was behind the shortage. Once importers get a hold of these licenses, they can resume importing the products, but patients will have to wait three weeks until the licenses are renewed and the products reach our shores.

In the meantime, the situation is particularly detrimental for patients who rely on medical cannabis for chronic pain. Without the options to take Pedanios or Bedrocan, they may either have to resort to black market products, which are not as effective, or even use opioids.

Medical cannabis is not easy to obtain in Malta: patients require a doctor’s prescription, a control card, and direct approval from the Superintendent of Public Health before they can purchase the medicine from pharmacies.

Only two pharmaceutical companies import Pedanios and Bedrocan. Additionally, medical cannabis is highly expensive: in Dutch pharmacies, medical cannabis retails for €6 a gram; in Malta, it sells for €16 per gram. A prescription of 2 grams a day sets a patient back €960 per month, upwards of €11,000 a year.

One fibromyalgia patient prescribed medical cannabis reached out to MaltaToday, worried that her current stock of medicine won’t be enough for the coming weeks. “At the end of the day this is medication – if I don’t take my prescriptions, I’ll suffer through migraines that make me go blind,” she said.

The Medicines Authority will be in talks with ReLeaf and other stakeholders to address the situation.

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