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New partnership to ease the burden on medical marijuana patients and doctors

As cannabis-related treatments continue to play an increasingly dominant role in caring for pain and seriously ill patients.

Gabriel Guerra (C) is held by his mother, Vanessa Opitz, while his father Ricardo Guerra gives him medicinal cannabis in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in September 2021. — © AFP
Gabriel Guerra (C) is held by his mother, Vanessa Opitz, while his father Ricardo Guerra gives him medicinal cannabis in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in September 2021. — © AFP

The project, known as “Pain Initiative Cannabinoids 2021”, is a crucial development in advancing the German cannabis industry. 

According to Oren Shuster is CEO and Director of IM Cannabis, the German government enacted the “Cannabis as Medicine” law in March 2017 with the objective of making medical cannabis accessible to patients with chronic pain as a treatment for their symptoms.

Shuster explains to Digital Journal that: “While this was a bold step forward for Europe’s largest economy, doctors still face burdensome obstacles when prescribing medical marijuana to their patients.”

As to what these obstacles are, Shuster  explains: “In order to receive treatment, German patients are required to have their entire health history documented to show that all other treatment options have been exhausted, and the prescription must be approved by the patient’s health insurance.”

This adds to the timeline, says Shuster: “This process can last weeks, delaying vital treatment to seriously ill patients. On top of that, approximately one-third of all applications end up being rejected, most commonly due to insufficient information about previous treatments, errors on the application, and doctors’ lack of experience with cannabinoids. Reservations about possible abuse may also be a contributing factor to the insufficient care of pain patients.”

Shuster says there are measures that can overcome such hurdles: “To aid both patients and doctors in overcoming these hurdles, the German Society for Pain Medicine (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Schmerzmedizin) entered into a contract with health insurer AOK Rheinland/Hamburg to simplify and streamline the process of prescribing medical cannabis to patients. Known as “Pain Initiative Cannabinoids 2021,” this project was developed as a result of a January 2021 study published by the German Society for Pain Medicine, insurer AOK Rheinland/Hamburg, academic researchers from LMU Munich, and a German government coalition.”

Expanding on the scope for the initiative, Shuster  adds: “The project is also supported by four major medical cannabis manufacturers: AOP Orphan Pharmaceuticals Germany GmbH (AOP Orphan), Cannamedical Pharma GmbH (Cannamedical), Spectrum Therapeutics GmbH (Spectrum Therapeutics), and Tilray Deutschland GmbH (Tilray). While IMC passively supports this initiative and wishes it to be successful, we do not believe it is the right time or the right opportunity for us, in terms of our current priorities, to take an active role”

In terms of the finer detail, Shuster outlines the main points: “Through the program, doctors will be able to directly prescribe medical marijuana to their patients after completing a required 20-hour continuing medical education (CME) certified course. The course covers topics such as standard cannabinoid therapies, signs of cannabis addiction, and possible side effects from cannabis use. Offered in partnership with AOK Rheinland/Hamburg, the course empowers doctors to prescribe the necessary treatments their patients need without having to overcome complicated bureaucracy.”

There are other advantages as well: “In addition to completing the initial course, doctors must also complete ongoing training and recertify themselves annually to continue their participation in the project. Continuous training ensures patients will receive up-to-date, quality-assured, and competent care during the course of their treatment”

In terms of who the initiative is progressing, Shuster states: “First conceived in December 2020, the German Society for Pain Medicine and AOK Rheinland/Hamburg are now working to develop contractual relationships nationwide that decrease bureaucracy for medical marijuana patients and providers. They also seek to increase the number of physicians who are able and willing to allow their patients to access medical marijuana therapies.”

With the patient benefits, Shuster finds: “As cannabis-related treatments continue to play an increasingly dominant role in caring for pain and seriously ill patients, this partnership has the potential to facilitate ease of access and growth in this area. It’s the first time there’s a partnership of this kind and if successful, it is likely to lead to a spike in demand; thus, a substantial but measured growth in market size.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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