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Landmark Danish medical cannabis pilot scheme is putting patients first

The Minister of Health in Denmark has outlined her vision for the medical cannabis pilot scheme – which is now underway.

Ellen Trane Nørby oversaw the implementation of the ‘landmark’ scheme and played a pivotal role in supporting the alternative medicine. Addressing attendees at the MJBiz Daily, European Cannabis Symposium in Copenhagen she made a passion-filled case for allowing vulnerable patients access to this treatment. Speaking about her support for the scheme the Health Minister expressed, “For me, it has all to do with the patients, it is for the benefit of our patients and that is what must be our focus as politicians, as doctors, or as businesses.”

Protecting the vulnerable

During her speech, Nørby told the crowd a story of a young electrician who suffered from chronic pain following a high voltage electric shock accident at work. Before being introduced to the Danish medical cannabis scheme he was forced to turn to the black market in order to self-medicate. Following assessment by a specialist doctor, the young man received a medical cannabis prescription and was ‘able to be a human being again’.

Nørby expressed the view that the scheme can give back dignity to the most vulnerable and render patients able to get out of bed in the morning. “For some patients, some of those patients who have tried everything to no avail – medical cannabis can help them”.

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Scheme has faced challenges

The Health Minister confessed that implementing the scheme – despite its success – has not been without its challenges. She praised the Danish Healthcare system for their innovations and ability to grow alongside the medical community. And claims that they must do the same with the medical cannabis scheme.

“Conversely, we must experiment to find out who it will help, and how to create a system where we can help those patients who do not experience any relief from conventional treatments and medicines. So, from the minute I entered office as Minister for Health, it has been my focus to ensure that the Danish medical cannabis scheme has been successful – that it supports business but its most important point is that it supports patients,” she explained.

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Nørby has however faced resistance for her support for the implementation of the medical cannabis scheme. With some calling for Denmark to await further evidence of the efficiency of medical cannabis. To those, she says that some of the patients she met ‘simply could not wait’.

“I think that we must not only obtain the evidence for medical cannabis and consolidate it ourselves, but we also need to pave the way at the same time. We have to do so in a secure framework where we trial this in a sensible way to ensure we do not leave the patients out on the black market” she added.

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Industry resistance

Doctors in Denmark can currently prescribe medical cannabis for all purposes but have been given recommendations in four different areas for prescription.

The health professionals, however, are not obligated to prescribe cannabis for any of the indications outlined in the government guidelines. And this has led to some conflict between doctors and patients seeking to try medical cannabis products. One patient described going to their doctors only to be met by a note on the door saying ‘if you want to talk about medical cannabis find another doctor’.

Nørby responds, “It’s a difficult discussion because we cannot force doctors to have knowledge in this field, however I do think that it’s an important part of being a doctor that if you do not feel comfortable or knowledgeable about something then you then refer your patient to another doctor”.

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