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‘New Era in Greek Healthcare’ as First Medical Cannabis Prescriptions Issued

Greece has officially made medical cannabis available to patients for the first time, bringing a frustrating seven-year wait to an end.

As of Monday, February 19, the first medical cannabis products were made available to patients with a prescription in what the companies involved said marked ‘a new era for healthcare in Greece’.

It follows a seven-year battle to make medical cannabis readily available to Greek citizens after Greece became one of Europe’s first countries to reschedule medical cannabis in 2017.

What happened?

Last week, the first dry cannabis products were made available to Greek patients, and the first patient received her prescription.

Medical cannabis will now be available in Greece to treat conditions including nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and combination therapy against HIV or hepatitis C; chronic pain; spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries; and as an appetite suppressant in palliative care.

The specialist doctors who now have the right to prescribe medical cannabis include anaesthetists, neurologists, and pathologists specialising in cancer, infections, and rheumatism.

Once a prescription is initially granted by a specialist, they can then be re-prescribed by other doctors every six months, though the treatment must then be re-evaluated by a specialist.

Medical cannabis is considered a ‘non-reimbursed treatment’, meaning that none of the costs will be covered by the state or insurance, but the ‘cost is high’.

Patients will be required to cover the full cost of their prescription, which will come to €82.96 for a 5-gram package, or €165.91 for a 10-gram package, equating to more than €16.50 per gram.

This price point was reportedly decided by taking the two lowest average price points in the EU, but the cost is expected to be reduced as more products come to market.

Business of Cannabis understands that only one product is currently available, a balanced CBD/THC preparation supplied by Tikun Olam Europe, but that higher-THC versions are set to be released to the market in the coming months as patients and doctors adjust to the first product.

The product will be available in pharmacies, and Tikun Olam’s product will be distributed by two companies, Lavipharm and Pharmaserve-Lilly.

Seven-year wait

The news has seen Anna Paga, a 60-year-old mother of three with psoriatic arthritis, become one of the country’s first medical cannabis patients to receive a prescription.

She told the Athens Macedonian News Agency (AMNA): “What can I say about this day? A very big thank you, relief, vindication, freedom to live. I was among the first to get the prescription via the electronic prescription system and I didn’t expect it, I couldn’t believe it. I burst into tears…an end to the risks and fear.”

Ms Paga added that she would no longer have to source her treatments from the illicit market, a reality that has been faced by Greek patients for years.

Greek patient advocacy group Mamaka, which has been at the forefront of the battle to make medical cannabis available to patients in Greece, told Business of Cannabis: “Mamaka (Mothers of Cannabis) has been working tirelessly for this day since our inception almost 10 years ago.

“We will continue to fight for the rights of our patients by advocating for more varieties on the market, reversal of the law against importation, paediatric use and reimbursement by the National Health System as well as the right to home cultivation, just to name just a few of the issues that still lay ahead.

“It has been a long time coming here in Greece but we look forward to a better tomorrow when there will be more products on the market and the wide variety of patients’ needs will be met at all levels.”

Medical cannabis was rescheduled in 2017 after a campaign launched by mothers of children with severe epilepsy gathered over 45,000 signatures, meaning it could legally be prescribed for three conditions, on paper.

Despite this, only a handful of patients had been able to obtain medical cannabis pharmaceutical products such as Epidyolex and Sativex through individual import requests, often after lengthy and complicated bureaucratic battles.

In 2021, progress was further hindered after the government introduced an import ban, which was believed to have been a move to protect Greece’s domestic market.

Although a ban on cultivation and production was repealed in March 2018, plans to allow the sale of medical cannabis prescriptions in pharmacies were not announced until 2022.

In January last year, Tikun Olam Europe revealed that operations had begun at its 56,000 sq. metre facility in Corinthia, Greece’s first medical cannabis production facility, after five years of preparation.

This facility, understood to have cost over €40m, is now expected to produce 10 tonnes of medical cannabis in its first year.

According to the managing director of Tikun Europe, Nikos Beis, Greece has all the conditions to be a star in the global medical cannabis market.

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