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Finland set to licence medical cannabis

The country’s pharmaceutical authority, Fimea, says an official decision is expected within a few weeks.

Nainen pyörätuolissa.
Medical cannabis is most often prescribed in Finland for treating pains associated with medical sclerosis. Image: Yle

The sale of cannabis-based medication is likely to be approved in Finland soon.

“There don’t appear to be obstacles to granting the licence,” says Erkki Palva, Director for the Assessment of Medicinal Products at Fimea.

The medicine in question is the cannabis-based oral spray Sativex. It has already been licenced in Sweden and the UK.

In Finland, the licencing of Sativex will mean that patients can legally buy it on a doctor’s prescription, without needing any additional permits.

Currently, Fimea authorises the use medicinal cannabis on a case-by-case basis. So far, the authority has given the green light to 62 patients since 2008.

Most of them suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS)—a condition accompanied by painful muscle spasms, which cannabis is prescribed to alleviate.

A milder medicine than some?

Among MS sufferers is Soile Lehtonen, who has used medical cannabis for a year. However she is not using Sativex but rather Bedrocan, which comes in the form of cannabis buds. This drug is imported from the the Netherlands and will continue requiring Fimea’s case-specific approval in the future.

Bedrocan is imported from the Netherlands. Image: Yle

Acquiring the prescription was an uphill struggle for Lehtonen. At first she tried to get it from the Tampere University Hospital, but was refused. She had to search a while for a private doctor who would write the prescription for her.  

“Cannabis is not a hard drug compared to the others I’ve tried,” Lehtonen says. “Take opioids, for example—they have more side effects listed than cannabis.”

“Not a general analgesic”

Pain research professor Eija Kalso from the Helsinki University Central Hospital raises the concern that the use of cannabis will become more widespread if the medication is licenced.

“It could be that in the future it will also be prescribed for painful conditions which it is not effective against. There can also be other reasons for the use, such as the patient’s previous consumption of cannabis,” Kalso says.

She stresses that the opioids’ effectiveness has been better demonstrated than that of cannabis, which has not been studied much.

“Cannabis is not a general pain reliever. It’s not effective for the treatment of acute pain or, for example, for cancer-related pains,” Kalso explains.

She says that only neurologists and doctors specialising in multiple sclerosis should be allowed to issue prescriptions for medical cannabis.

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