When you think of Israel, what comes to mind? Do you think of politics and religion? Technology and computer innovation? One thing that should pop up when you think of Israel is medical marijuana, as Israel is taking the global lead on cannabis research and use.
If you know your medical marijuana history, this shouldn’t be a surprise. It was an Israeli scientist who first identified cannabidiol in cannabis and determined the chemical structure of THC. The fact that Israel continues to lead research on cannabis in a medical context is a natural effect of that initial discovery. But what you may not be aware of is that Israel is also leading the world with smart policies that encourage research and improve the accessibility of medical marijuana.
Understanding How Laws Affect Patients
When medical marijuana was first approved for medical use in Israel, it was difficult to obtain. Patients needed a prescription from a doctor as well as a note from the Ministry of Health to get their medicine. A limited number of doctors were trained to prescribe marijuana, and it was only available from special dispensaries. But recently, doctors, advocates, and lawmakers have recognized how difficult these extra precautions make it for an already suffering population to get their medicine.
In 2015, Israel launched a reform plan meant to allow easier access to medical marijuana. The plan has been approved but is not fully implemented yet. It involves a two-day training that will give doctors the ability to prescribe medical marijuana. The training is not mandatory, and only doctors and psychiatrists who want to work with medical marijuana need to take it, but it will dramatically increase the number of professionals able to safely prescribe marijuana. Marijuana will also be made available in traditional pharmacies as opposed to only special dispensaries.
In the U.S., when people cannot afford or access medical marijuana, they often turn to black market solutions. This not only stunts the medical marijuana industry but also puts patients at risk of using unregulated substances that may be laced with pesticides and other drugs. By ensuring access to medical marijuana and training professionals to properly prescribe it, Israel has limited the need for patients to seek marijuana through illegal channels.
Ironically, most medical marijuana restrictions are put in place under the assumption that they protect the consumers. However, lawmakers do not always see the damaging effects of their stringent policies.
Affordability Is Important
Another factor that limits access to medical marijuana in the U.S. is the high cost of the medicine. Because it is not FDA approved, insurance does not cover the cost of medical marijuana and, in some states, the price is prohibitive for many patients.
In Israel, once a patient is approved for medical marijuana, they pay 100 euro (around $105 USD) each month for their supply of medicine. The cost is independent of the amount of marijuana a patient needs. It is unclear whether the price of medical marijuana will go up when the medicine is supplied in ordinary pharmacies as opposed to special dispensaries,but the current regulations do make the medicine affordable for patients who need it.
Vaporizing or eating cannabis has been shown to treat PTSD symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, and depression. But Israeli researchers have not been satisfied with the symptomatic approach. Instead, they demand to know whether cannabis or the information we learn from studying cannabis can be used to actually cure PTSD.
Israeli researchers have learned that oral cannabis may not actually be the most reliable solution for stabilizing the endocannabinoid system (eCB) in patients with PTSD. Instead, they have created a FAAH inhibitor based on the positive effects of cannabis that may allow patients to effectively unlearn their associations with negative stimuli. This medicine, KDS-4103, is currently in animal testing phases.
Until a more targeted treatment becomes available, researchers have recommended a therapeutic approach to cannabis use. This includes oral cannabis as opposed to vaporized, taken just before bed in order to regulate the amount of cannabis in the bloodstream. And to facilitate the extinction of PTSD triggers, patients should take a vaporized dose just before exposure to a trigger—preferably under the supervision of a therapist.
Israeli scientists are not only continuing to research the most effective methods for using cannabis to treat PTSD, though. They are researching several diseases, creating new strains of the plant, improving agricultural technologies for growing, and designing new medical devices. This thorough approach to research allows for advancements in understanding and application of the plant and should be how all psychedelic research is conducted.
The Government Needs to Support Research
The Israeli government, although hesitant at first, has recognized the benefits of allowing and funding cannabis research projects. It has also noted the difference between supporting research and medical use of cannabis as opposed to recreational use of cannabis. While recreational use of the plant can involve physical risks, these risks can often be mitigated if the plant is grown according to strict regulations and the patient works with an experienced professional to determine the correct dose and delivery method. By supporting controlled medicinal use, lawmakers realize that the number of people self-medicating with the plant will likely decrease.
In the U.S., lawmakers still resist medical research into cannabis, and most government approved studies being conducted in the U.S. focus on the negative aspects of the plant as opposed to its potential therapeutic uses. Also, the FDA has refused to place cannabis under a less stringent classification to allow researchers easier access to the substance. Many lawmakers in the U.S. are afraid that relaxing the rules regarding medical use of marijuana will result in increased recreational use as well, which can have negative physical and mental effects for people who use high doses at a young age or in an uncontrolled environment. While this idea has been supported by the fact that several states have approved recreational marijuana use soon after medical use, Israel has shown it is possible to both keep the legal distinction and maintain control.
Getting lawmakers on board with cannabis research not only facilitates faster, more thorough research but also allows for better regulation once therapeutic uses are established. This includes training therapists, creating government approved dispensaries, and tapping into the earning potential of cannabis as a medical product. Although it is easier to sway lawmakers in a smaller country with less of an anti-marijuana stance, it is necessary for Americans to get federal lawmakers to support cannabis research.
Each country will need to approach medical marijuana differently due to the current cultural context of the substance and laws surrounding its use. Israel has taken a surprisingly progressive approach to research and policy, which allows for constant discovery and development. This has benefited the people of Israel by providing more medical options and creating a strong economic product for domestic use and exportation. Other nations should watch closely to learn what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to making medical marijuana accessible to the general public while maintaining high safety standards and regulations. The lessons we learn can then be applied in other countries and to the research and development of other psychedelic substances.