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High Demand and Short Supply in the German Medical Cannabis System

Marijuana buds in hand

You may have heard recently that cannabis is a good medicine – good medicine for a LOT of ailments. (I believe this to be true, and not just something put on the internet by Russians posing as health professionals.)

It’s no surprise then when a state or country newly legalizes medical use of the cannabis plant, patients rush to the floodgates to find safe remedies for neurological disorders, gastrointestinal issues, pain, side effects of chemotherapy and supplement to cancer therapy, glaucoma… oh please don’t make me list them all again. IT’S AN AMAZING PLANT, OKAY???!

Now that Germany has nominally liberalized its laws regarding medical cannabis, the country is facing a cannabis shortage, leaving some patients in a state of limbo, as reported by DW News:

“Doctors may only prescribe medicinal cannabis to severely ill patients if they can demonstrate that other therapies are not promising. THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, can be prescribed as dried cannabis buds. In the past, many patients had to pay for the cannabis themselves and health insurers only occasionally covered the costs. With Germany’s new law in place, insurers are now obliged to foot the bill for cannabis therapies. Presently, health insurers reject one out of three requests for this treatment, according to a survey conducted by German daily Rheinische Post among the country’s biggest health insurers. Christoph Schäkermann is one of these unlucky patients. It means he faces huge costs. The pharmacy charges €125 ($150) for five grams of dried cannabis buds.

“Since medicinal cannabis was legalized in Germany, the market has grown tremendously. In the first half of 2017 alone, doctors prescribed more than 10,600 units of dried cannabis buds, according to the Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists (ABDA). The number has been rising rapidly. In March 2017, 560 units were prescribed and this figure continuously rose over time to almost 5,000 prescriptions in June. And these numbers only pertain to medicinal cannabis paid for by health insurers. Pharmacies also sold 12,500 so-called finished medicinal products based on cannabis ingredients to patients who paid themselves. No wonder, then, that cannabis supplies ran low during the summer.

“…The sudden increase in demand for medicinal cannabis poses a major challenge for importers and producers. Cannamedical (one of four companies approved for cannabis importation and supply in Germany) has vowed to ensure patients have access to the highest quality medicinal cannabis. ‘The supply shortage was a serious issue not only for us but also for patients depending on this medicine,’ explained Kouparanis, who works as Cannamedical’s sales manager. ‘At the moment, we have only one cannabis producer in all of Europe, located in the Netherlands. This producer has to meet the entire European demand for medicinal cannabis, which is almost impossible.'”

Every cannabis system has its ups and downs as it is difficult establishing a market after decades of prohibition. It is natural to have a supply issue when a medical law has been liberalized suddenly, especially when enacting a pioneering law that mandates that insurance companies reimburse cannabis expenses. It is even more likely you’ll have a shortage when there aren’t any home-grown companies producing cannabis and you’re importing from Canada and the Netherlands. (Where are you Israel and America?) For the sake of patients, let’s hope that Germany figures out its supply problem sooner, rather than later.

See for yourself how Germany’s new medical cannabis law is unfolding and get a sense as to where the country’s cannabis system is headed at the International Cannabis Business Conference, April 11-13 at the Maratim proArte Hotel in Berlin! Tickets are on sale now!

Cannamedical, Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists, Germany