Medical marijuana legal in Poland but still rare

October 31, 2017

The little boy shakes his hands violently to and fro, but the involuntary motion eases within minutes after his mother puts the syrupy, honey-brown oil into his mouth: medicinal marijuana.

Krzysztof is a playful, smiling five-year-old Polish boy with Down's syndrome. His parents say they owe his life to the medical cannabis oil they began giving him two years ago.

A new law came into force on Tuesday allowing Poles to use stronger medicinal marijuana than the kind authorised so far—but critics say few may see the benefits of it.

In Krzysztof's case, conventional drugs had failed to ease the more than 200 epileptic seizures a day that left him weak, exhausted and gasping for breath.

"Two years ago we tried medical marijuana as a last resort after everything else had failed to relieve our son's violent seizures, and he began to improve from the very first day," Krzysztof's father, Artur Schewe, told AFP.

"We were overjoyed because just days earlier we had been preparing for our son to die," said the bearded and bespectacled 52-year-old insurance salesman.

Tender palliative care

The Schewes have been giving Krzysztof cannabis oil that is already legal in Poland.

"We've seen incredible benefits," says his mother Dorota, adding that his seizures have dropped by "around 80 percent".

"Krzysztof has become much more active, he started to laugh and to cry, he plays, he can concentrate and his immune system is stronger so he's much more healthy."

The cannabis oil the Schewes have been using has a high concentration of Cannabidiol, or CBD—an anti-inflammatory agent which is derived from marijuana plants but does not cause patients to get high.

The oil has only minute traces of psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

THC is regarded as more effective in the treatment of chronic pain, post-traumatic stress and in palliative care.

The new law that took effect on Tuesday grants Poles the right to use medical marijuana with higher concentrations of high-inducing THC.

But the Schewes along with other medical marijuana activists, physicians and legislators argue that shortcomings in the new legislation mean few patients will be able to access or afford it.

Only imported marijuana

Doctor Marek Bachanski, a paediatric neurologist, who has pioneered Poland's use of medical marijuana to treat epilepsy in children, says the new legislation comes with several hurdles.

"Polish patients will have very limited access to this type of treatment because we don't produce medical marijuana domestically," he told AFP.

Legislation passed by Poland's right wing-dominated parliament in June rules out recreational use. It allows cannabis-based drugs with high concentrations of THC to be made, on prescription, in Polish pharmacies using only imported marijuana.

Although imports are likely to be more costly, conservative Polish lawmakers feared that allowing domestic marijuana cultivation would open the door to legalising recreational marijuana, a move they oppose.

According to Bachanski, there is already "not enough medical marijuana imported from The Netherlands" and that adequate supplies "will only arrive next year."

Lack of marijuana knowledge

Bachanski also says "just a handful" of Polish doctors really know how to use medical marijuana to treat patients.

Polish pharmacists also lack the knowledge and equipment to fill prescriptions for various types of medical marijuana, Bachanski adds.

Under EU rules, patients who are unable to fill their prescriptions in Poland, are entitled to do so in one of the bloc's 13 other member states where medical marijuana is legal.

Critics, however, warn that the higher costs of seeking medicine abroad could make this unaffordable for many Poles.

They want further legislation to allow domestic production and processing of medical marijuana to bring down costs and guarantee access.

Poland's Health Minister Konstanty Radziwill insists such concerns are overstated. He points to dozens of patients, especially children, already getting special funding and import permits for medical marijuana on a case-by-case basis.

Rapper-MP proposes bill

Piotr Krzysztof Liroy-Marzec, a Polish rapper turned member of parliament, has been the driving legislative force behind legal in Poland.

After a 2015 survey found that 78 percent of Poles favoured legalisation of medical cannabis, Liroy tabled legislation to do just that in February 2016.

But his draft was heavily amended to rule out domestic production before being passed this June by parliament, dominated by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Eyeing the global multi-billion dollar boom in medical and recreational marijuana, the bearded and heavily tattooed 46-year-old Liroy says he now intends to table fresh legislation allowing "Poland to grow our own and send our medicine around the globe."

Explore further: Polish lawmakers legalise medicinal marijuana

Related Stories

Polish lawmakers legalise medicinal marijuana

June 22, 2017
Poland's lower house of parliament, which is controlled by the conservatives, on Thursday voted to make medicinal marijuana legal under certain circumstances.

Majority of Poles want legal medical marijuana: survey

July 10, 2015
Nearly 70 percent of Poles favour the legalisation of medical marijuana, according to the first survey of its kind in the central European country published Friday.

Study finds up to one-quarter of cancer patients use marijuana

September 25, 2017
A new study conducted in a cancer center in a state with legalized medicinal and recreational marijuana found that approximately one-quarter of surveyed patients used marijuana in the past year, mostly for physical and psychological ...

Canada to allow medical marijuana patients to grow cannabis

August 11, 2016
The Canadian government says medical marijuana patients will be able to grow their own cannabis under new regulations that come into effect later this month.

Czech lower house approves medical marijuana

December 7, 2012
(AP)—The lower house of Parliament has approved legislation that makes it legal in the Czech Republic to use marijuana for medical treatment.

Germany expects cannabis-growing program to be going in 2019

March 3, 2017
German authorities say they expect to have a cannabis-growing program up and running in 2019 after the country approved legislation allowing some patients to get the drug as a prescription medication.

Recommended for you

Sitting for long hours found to reduce blood flow to the brain

August 20, 2018
A team of researchers with Liverpool John Moores University in the U.K. has found evidence of reduced blood flow to the brain in people who sit for long periods of time. In their paper published in the Journal of Applied ...

Balanced advice needed to address 'screen time' for children, study shows

August 20, 2018
Parents, health professionals and educators need clear and balanced information to help manage young children's use of mobile touch-screen devices in Australia, new research by Curtin University has found.

Students more likely to eat school breakfast when given extra time, new study finds

August 18, 2018
Primary school students are more likely to eat a nutritional breakfast when given 10 extra minutes to do so, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Tech and Georgia Southern University.

Like shark attack and the lottery, unconscious bias influences cancer screening

August 17, 2018
What do shark attack, the lottery and ovarian cancer screening having in common? It turns out our judgments about these things are all influenced by unconscious bias.

Phantom odors: One American in 15 smells odors that aren't there, study finds

August 16, 2018
Imagine the foul smell of an ash tray or burning hair. Now imagine if these kinds of smells were present in your life, but without a source. A new study finds that 1 in 15 Americans (or 6.5 percent) over the age of 40 experiences ...

US drug overdose deaths surge amid fentanyl scourge

August 16, 2018
US drug overdose deaths surged to nearly 72,000 last year, as addicts increasingly turn to extremely powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as the supply of prescription painkillers has tightened.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Oct 31, 2017
Yes medical marijuana is really legal but scarce. I will can recommend you a connect where you can buy weed online

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.