Pain Relief: Ukraine is on the Way to Legalizing Medical Marijuana

Authors: Yuliana Skibitskaya, Yana Kazmirenko, Ukraine

Ukraine may become the 14th European country to allow the use of medical cannabis. Activists are looking forward to the next move – drug policy liberalization.

Ukraine has taken the path of legalizing medical cannabis. In two months, a petition registered on the Ukrainian parliament’s website has collected 25,000 signatures, which makes it mandatory for MPs to review it. According to the petition’s authors, about two million Ukrainian citizens currently have no access to this effective therapy, which can help people with cancer, war veterans and patients in palliative care. Ulana Suprun, acting minister of health of Ukraine, also supports the legalization of medical marijuana. She says that the “rational” use of cannabis for medical purposes is legitimate. It is expected to be made available in pharmacies by prescription.

The draft law may be considered in May-June

The civil society movement for legalizing medical marijuana is led by the NGO 100% Life, the Ukrainian Association of Medical Cannabis, and 16 other civil society organizations.

On 20 March 2019, the relevant parliamentary committee considered the petition but failed to support it as there was no quorum at the session. MPs appealed to the Cabinet of Ministers with a suggestion to amend the current list of narcotic substances, which prohibits the use of cannabis in Ukraine for medical and research purposes. Cannabis would still be considered a narcotic drug but would be allowed for medical use.

“The Human Rights Committee supported the petition. Now MPs have a free hand, they can register a draft law based on the petition,” says one of the authors and leader of 100% Life, Dmitry Sherembey. “There is a group of MPs which supports us. We expect that in May-July the draft law may be registered and considered by the current parliament.” (In autumn Ukraine will hold parliamentary elections – note of editor).

Another author of the petition, Gennadiy Shabas, who heads the Ukrainian Association of Medical Cannabis, says the law should clearly define the rules of using cannabis for medical and research purposes in order to avoid any risks.

Medical marijuana may be used in HIV treatment

There have long been attempts to legalize medical marijuana in Ukraine, but significant progress was achieved only last year when the Ministry of Health openly supported civil society activists. For several years in a row, Cannabis Marches of Freedom have been held in Kyiv, with participants calling on the government to legalize cannabis.

Medical marijuana helps patients with cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, but can also be used for HIV therapy. Apart from the fact that medical cannabis relieves pain, scientists have discovered that people living with HIV who smoke marijuana have higher CD4 counts and lower viral load compared to patients who do not use this kind of therapy. Cannabinoids also help to tolerate opioids, which are often prescribed to AIDS patients. Marijuana prolongs the pain-alleviating effect, improves appetite and prevents tolerance and addiction to “hard” drugs.

Dmitry Sherembey explains that marijuana removes pain syndrome so that the body can direct its resources not at overcoming pain, but at fighting infection. Thus, cannabis not only makes life easier for patients, but it also improves their prognosis for fighting the disease, especially in the case of cancer.

“For instance, even if doctors gave a patient only three months, his prognosis may be improved by up to three years,” he says.

Legalization to reduce stigma

Velta Parkhomenko, the coordinator of the Ukrainian Union of People Who Use Drugs and manager of the NGO Eney Club, thinks that amending legal regulations on the use of medical cannabis is an important step for Ukraine in general, and especially for the community of people who use drugs.

“Legalization of medical cannabis will allow us to accelerate the process of humanizing drug policy. We are convinced that the fewer myths and stereotypes there are around psychoactive substances, the simpler it will be for us to talk about the problems of people who use drugs,” says Velta.

Another argument she offers is that legalizing medical marijuana will reduce stigma and discrimination and reaffirm the widely-recognised fact that drug dependence is not a crime but a chronic, recurring disease.

The activist hopes that the process will not stop with medical cannabis. The next logical steps should be to humanize drug policy, amend the table of maximum allowed quantities of narcotic drugs, and introduce changes in legislation.

Medical marijuana does not alter awareness and does not affect mental states

Medical marijuana is a medicine based on the active components contained in cannabis. The truth is that not all cannabinoids have a narcotic effect. That is why medical marijuana, as opposed to other types of marijuana, does not alter awareness or affect mental states. It may be administered in different ways, such as traditional smoking as well as pills, oils and other pharmaceutical forms.

Today, medical cannabis is mainly brought to Ukraine from neighbouring Poland, where it is sold in pharmacies. However, at present importing cannabinoid-containing medicines to Ukraine is equivalent to drug trafficking.

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