Global Report: Israel

In Feature Stories, Global by Chris Hogg

While marijuana is not officially legal in Israel, its Ministry of Health offers special licenses that allow 13,000 registered users to access medical cannabis.

So far, the only pharmacy licensed to distribute medical marijuana is at Eilat’s Yoseftal Medical Center. But the Ministry of Health is hoping to allow distribution of medical marijuana through pharmacies across Israel sometime in 2013.

Recently, the Health Ministry said it would expand its criteria for marijuana prescription eligibility. New policies now allow oncologists, for example, to prescribe medical marijuana to all cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

A recent survey found more than two-thirds of Israeli cancer patients who were prescribed medical marijuana to combat pain are reportedly satisfied with the treatment.

In 2012, anesthesiologist and pain relief expert, Dr. Bareket Schiff-Keren, told the Knesset Committee on Drug Abuse that Israel is the world leader in medical marijuana use.

Israel is at the forefront of tweaking marijuana for medical purposes. An Israeli company developed a marijuana strain said to carry all the reported medical benefits of cannabis, but without THC, the chemical component that causes that hallmark high. The cannabis is instead produced with high quantities of CBD, a substance that is believed to be an anti-inflammatory ingredient, which helps alleviate pain.

In January 2013, new Israeli research found marijuana to dramatically help the elderly. “Not only did participants experience dramatic physical results, including healthy weight gain and the reduction of pain and tremors, but Hadarim staff saw an immediate improvement in the participants’ moods and communication skills. The use of chronic medications was also significantly reduced,” researchers reported.

Israel’s marijuana research backbone is Hebrew University, HQ of the scientist credited for identifying THC in marijuana, Raphael Mechoulam. He is one of the most recent recipients of the Rothschild Prize, a $50,000 award for outstanding researchers. Mechoulam has been obtaining hashish (a preparation made from compressed THC-rich resinous material) from the Israeli police for more than 40 years, with Ministry of Health approval. Although he retired from Hebrew University at 81, he is still actively collaborating with scientists and students in Israel, the United States, Europe, Brazil, Japan and New Zealand to examine and synthesize a range of brain chemicals.

Also at Hebrew University, a research team has been studying the effects of the CBD-enhanced cannabis on mice and plans to start clinical trials soon.

In Summary:

  • Medical marijuana is not officially legal, but Israel’s Ministry of Health issues special licenses that allow thousands of patients to receive medical marijuana.
  • There are 10,000 registered users of medical marijuana.
  • More than two-thirds of Israeli cancer patients who were prescribed medical marijuana to combat pain say they are satisfied with the treatment.
  • Home of medical marijuana research is Hebrew University, HQ of the scientist credited for identifying THC in marijuana, Raphael Mechoulam. Also, a research team at the Hebrew University has been studying the effects of the CBD-enhanced cannabis on mice and plans to start clinical trials soon.
  • In January 2013, new Israeli research found marijuana to dramatically help the elderly. “Not only did participants experience dramatic physical results, including healthy weight gain and the reduction of pain and tremors, but Hadarim staff saw an immediate improvement in the participants’ moods and communication skills. The use of chronic medications was also significantly reduced.”
  • The only pharmacy licensed to distribute medical marijuana in Israel is at Eilat’s Yoseftal Medical Center. The Ministry of Health is planning to allow distribution of medical marijuana through pharmacies beginning sometime in 2013.