HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Spain's Health Ministry to Allow Doctors to Prescribe
Pubdate: Sun, 06 Feb 2005
Source: Independent on Sunday (UK)
Copyright: Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Elizabeth Nash, in Madrid
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


In a bold venture that puts Spain at the forefront of the medical use
of cannabis in Europe, 60 pharmacies and four hospitals in Catalonia
are to prescribe marijuana for therapeutic use where other treatments
have failed.

The pioneering scheme surpasses measures taken by the Dutch, leaders
in the field, and puts British efforts in the shade. A British drug
company has been denied permission to produce medicinal cannabis for
trials - because of lack of political will, critics say.

Doctors in Catalonia will be able to prescribe cannabis in capsules or
as an infusion to help four specific conditions: anorexia among Aids
patients; nausea caused by chemotherapy in cancer patients; constant
pain - including migraine - that has been unresponsive to other
treatments; and muscular problems among those with multiple sclerosis.
About 150,000 patients are expected to benefit.

Spain's Health Minister, Elena Salgado, said she accepted that
cannabis "has some therapeutic value". She approved "the controlled
use of tablets in specific cases and under medical supervision", but
insisted on the need to fight drug addiction. Spanish health policy is
devolved to the regions, but must receive Madrid's blessing.

Catalan doctors back the scheme, so long as cannabis use is carefully
controlled. "Prescriptions must be made under medical supervision, and
only in extreme cases ... It's a humane response to understandable
demand for an improved quality of life," said Guillermo Sierra,
president of Barcelona's medical council.

"We must ensure the therapeutic use of cannabis is not treated
frivolously among the young," he added. "We don't want to give the
impression we support smoking joints, or that cannabis is good for

The pilot project, which begins next month - initially for a year -
stems from a proposal by Barcelona's College of Pharmacists, following
a similar experiment in the Netherlands in 2003, although that has
just 8,000 patients.

The plan was agreed by Catalonia's left-wing regional government, a
coalition of socialists, Greens and independent republicans. The
initiative, due to be approved by the Spanish Health Ministry after
more than a year of strenuous lobbying, is expected to prompt Spain's
other autonomous regions to adopt similar measures.
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