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Ukraine: Legal Medical Cannabis Offers Only Two Expensive Drugs For Patients

On 7 April, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine adopted Resolution No. 324 on the removal of certain cannabis-based preparations from the list of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and precursors. Instead of the promised legalisation of cannabis for medical and scientific use, the Ukrainian government allowed the legal circulation of only two preparations based on synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effects of THC.  Patients’ organisations stated that the Minister of Health, who initiated this decree, deceived patients and deprived them of hope for affordable treatment.

In fact, this regulation allows the import of two medicines: Nabilone (a synthetic cannabinoid that mimics the effects of THC) and Nabiximols (a standardised cannabis extract with the same THC and cannabidiol content). This means that patients will formally have access to 2 medicines, but their price is so high that in fact Ukrainians will not be able to buy them. The price for a pack of Nabiximols is about $2000; for Nabilon, $640 – stated patient groups.  Nabilone is used to treat side effects of cancer chemotherapy, while Nabiximols is used to reduce spasms in multiple sclerosis. Both drugs use a synthetic copy of cannabis.

The head of the 100% Life organisation, Dmytro Sherembey, said that the shortlist did not include Epidiolex, a drug for pharmaceutically resistant epilepsy. It is needed by 18,000 children in Ukraine. In Sherembey’s opinion, this decree is not aimed at making medical cannabis available to those who need it, but at lobbying the interests of certain pharmaceutical companies.

According to Hennadiy Shabas, chairman of the Ukrainian Medical Cannabis Association, the decree also stipulates that state controls will not be applied to cannabidiol isolate, i.e. pure SBD without THC impurities.  However, Shabas wonders, in European practice, the circulation of SBD products with THC impurities up to 0.2 per cent is allowed. In his opinion, such a decision will allow law enforcement agencies to constantly check cannabidiol-based products and, finding small impurities, open criminal cases. This would deprive patients of access to the drugs and expose them to prosecution.

Patients’ organisations in Ukraine are calling for the adoption of a “law for Sofia” – a draft law on the availability of cannabis for medical use, which would open up opportunities for the legal circulation of cannabis-based medicines, and which takes into account the real needs of patients.

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