Despite booming business in Israel, lack of transparency from health officials remains an issue
Women’s health has become a major focus of Israel’s burgeoning medical cannabis industry, as researchers are poised to carry out pioneering clinical trials.
Nearly 40,000 Israelis already rely on medical marijuana to treat a wide variety of health issues, including conditions affecting women like endometriosis. Some 180 million women worldwide suffer from the gynecological disease that causes chronic pelvic pain and sometimes leads to infertility.
“We are sure that this can be a very novel treatment for endometriosis,” Professor David Soriano, Director of the Center for Endometriosis Treatment at Sheba Medical Center, told The Media Line. “We are now conducting a randomized control study in order to prove this.”
Dr. Soriano noted that one of the main obstacles facing medical professionals is that little research has been conducted into what is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This network of neurotransmitters, discovered by medical researchers in the late 1980s, regulates things like appetite, pain modulation, stress and memory. All animals with a spinal cord have an ECS and their receptors are affected by chemical compounds (THC and CBD) contained in cannabis.
At the third CannX International Medical Cannabis Conference recently held in Tel Aviv, hundreds of leading industry insiders unveiled their latest findings.
“We know that the female reproductive system is particularly responsive to the medicinal properties of the plant,” Meredith Rose Burak, Director of Global Relations at Asana Bio Group, explained to The Media Line. “This system has the highest concentration of endocannabinoids anywhere in the body after the brain.”
Patient Access And A Lack Of Transparency
In Israel, which has long been at the forefront of the medical marijuana field, patient access remains an issue.
“For the past 11 years, I am receiving treatment from cannabis and I am very happy for this,” Paulette Azar, a breast cancer survivor who still suffers from chronic pain and whose prescription was recently cut, recounted to The Media Line. “Last week, I got my new certificate and I saw that instead of 200 grams [per month] I will now be receiving 20 grams [per month.]”
Azar’s situation was unsurprising to those working at Tikun Olam, Israel’s largest supplier of medical cannabis.
“We have a lot of people in Israel who are suffering—especially from pain, from post-trauma, from cancer—and most of them are not getting this treatment,” Ma’ayan Weisberg Yoels, International Relations Manager at the organization, related to The Media Line.
Tikun Olam, which treats 15,500 patients, is currently conducting 15 clinical trials in collaboration with institutions across Israel and has also launched joint ventures with companies in Canada, the United States and Australia.
“From our data we see [that the use of cannabis leads to] a reduction of at least 40 percent in intake of other pharmaceutical or different medications and we see an improvement in the quality of life [of patients], their ability to go back to work and be part of society,” Weisberg Yoels highlighted. “So we definitely believe that medical cannabis should be accessible to patients in Israel and worldwide.”
Only about 80 doctors across Israel are licensed to prescribe cannabis, which prompted the Ministry of Health to launch a trial program to train another 150 physicians in the field by April 2019.
“We believe that cannabis should be prescribed to any patient that needs it, but [only from] doctors who have been educated with how to do so,” Yuval Landschaft, Director of the Medical Cannabis Unit at the Ministry of Health, stressed to The Media Line. “It’s a big issue, it’s not a little one.”
The Media Line reached out to several Israeli physicians that presently prescribe cannabis to discuss their experiences navigating the Ministry’s bureaucracy, however they are forbidden to speak to the press without prior government approval which was not granted despite repeated requests.