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Ukraine Government Backs Medical Cannabis Legalization in the Face of Russian Invasion

This story appeared first in Forbes Magazine

‘We understand the negative effects of war on mental health

Ukraine’s Health Minister Viktor Liashko announced on 7 June 2022 that the government had backed the bill that would legalize medical cannabis amid the war with Russia.

“We understand the negative effects of war on mental health. We understand the number of people who will need medical treatment due to this exposure. And we understand that there is no time to wait,” he wrote on a Facebook post.

He also stressed those who campaign against the legalization of medical cannabis in Ukraine deliberately compare cannabis-based medicines with illegal cannabis to negate its medical value as a medicine and to discredit the idea of its use for medical purposes.

The bill aims to improve the quality of medical services for the population that undergoes palliative medicine and encourage medical research on cannabis.

The bill would expand patients’ access to the necessary treatment for more than 50 conditions, including cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), neurological diseases, and chronic pain of neuropathic origin.

At the same time, it would provide strict control over the cultivation, production, and sale of medical cannabis products, including authorizations and licenses for the economic activities for the cultivation of cannabis strains for medical purposes and scientific research, as well as a medical cannabis tracking system in order to provide information for all the stages of products’ circulation.

Patients will be able to get medical cannabis products through a prescription from a doctor accordingly to indications provided on the electronic prescription.

Russian Invasion has fast-tracked cannabis legalizatiom

According to the bill, a central executive body determines the percentage of THC in medical cannabis products through laboratory tests conducted by enterprises, institutions, and organizations.

The bill was initially introduced in June 2021. But a month later, the Ukrainian Parliament (also known as the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine) failed to approve it.

The government legalized the use of dronabinol, nabilone, synthetic THC-based drugs, and nabiximols, a cannabis extract developed by the UK company GW Pharmaceuticals in April 2021, two months before lawmakers introduced the medical cannabis bill.

According to the Ukrainian daily Kyiv Post, the results of a national poll done in October 2020 by then-candidate President Volodymyr Zelenskyy showed that most Ukrainians support medical cannabis legalization. Asked whether they support the legalization of medical cannabis, 64.88% of respondents said “yes,” while 29.53% said “no.”

By analyzing Mr. Liashko’s statement on Facebook, it seems that the Russia-Ukraine war has sped up the process of legalizing medical cannabis. He highlighted how the bill would create o create conditions for expanding patients’ access to the necessary treatment of cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from the war.

Legal medical cannabis could boost Ukraine’s resilience in the face of war

Ukrainians are exposed to huge psychological distress as a result of the conflict. Experts warn that the war has already caused enormous psychological trauma, especially among children, young people, and the elderly.

Amid the mental health crisis that more than 100 days of war have generated, medical cannabis may represent an option for people’s resilience process.

As a press statement of Ukraine’s Ministry of Health reported, preliminary evidence shows the use of drugs based on medical cannabis is effective in the case of mental disorders resulting from the use of psychoactive substances with a stimulating effect on the human body, as well as to overcome anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sleep disorders.

The Ministry of Health expects the Parliament to support the bill further, noting that medical cannabis can prevent patients from suffering and improve their treatment.

Recreational cannabis in Ukraine will remain illegal. Its production, sale, purchase, and other illicit activities trigger administrative or penal offenses.

When the country was part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was one of the biggest hemp producers in the world. Before the 1950s, it had hundreds of thousands of hectares dedicated to hemp cultivation for industrial purposes.

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