The Netherlands on Monday became the world's first country to make marijuana available as a prescription drug in pharmacies to treat cancer, HIV, and multiple sclerosis. The nation's Health Ministry is making the drug widely available to chronically ill patients amid pressure on countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the United States to relax restrictions on its supply as a medicine. Dutch doctors will be allowed to prescribe marijuana to treat chronic pain, nausea, and loss of appetite in cancer and HIV patients, to alleviate MS sufferers' spasm pains, and to reduce physical or verbal tics in people suffering from Tourette's syndrome.
Two companies in the Netherlands have been given licenses to grow special strains of marijuana in laboratory-style conditions to sell to the Health Ministry, which in turn packages and labels the drug in small tubs to supply to pharmacies. In addition to pharmacies, 80 hospitals and 400 doctors will be allowed to dispense five-gram doses of SIMM18 medical marijuana for 44 euros ($48) a tub and more potent Bedrocan at 50 euros ($55). The Health Ministry recommends that patients dilute the cannabis in tea or turn it into a spray. A British drug firm that's testing a cannabis spray medicine to give pain relief for multiple sclerosis patients is hoping to launch the product in the United Kingdom later this year.
HIV-positive people and AIDS activists in the Netherlands welcomed the government's move to make marijuana available in pharmacies. "We are glad the government recognizes that for some people it can improve the quality of life," said Robert Witlox, managing director of HIV Vereniging. The association has called on health insurers to cover the cost of the drug like any other.