France currently lags behind many other European nations when it comes to cannabis legislation, although the good news is that the government now seems determined to play catch-up by implementing a two-year-long medical marijuana trial. Clinicians will be allowed to prescribe a range of different cannabis products throughout the test period, while a national database will also be set up in order to record patient outcomes, with a view to informing future cannabis laws in France.
The trial was originally approved by the government in October 2019 and had been scheduled to begin in September 2020, although this was postponed as the health authorities redirected all their resources toward combatting the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the most recent official announcement, the trial will now begin by January 2021 at the latest.
What Will The Trial Entail?
The National Agency for Drug Safety (ANSM) says that the purpose of the initiative is to allow patients suffering from certain conditions to try medical cannabis if they have failed to respond to other treatments. Among the conditions listed are neuropathic pain, treatment-resistant epilepsy, chemotherapy-related nausea and painful spasms caused by multiple sclerosis or other disorders of the central nervous system. Patients in palliative care will also be eligible for the programme.
Cannabis products will be available on prescription only, and clinicians wishing to take part in the trial will need to undergo an online training course before they can start prescribing. A range of products including dried cannabis flowers and full-spectrum oils for vaporization will be available, along with oil capsules and cannabis drinks. However, smoking cannabis will not be covered by any prescriptions.
While the exact list of products to be included in the trial has not been released, the ANSM has said that it hopes to make an assortment of chemovars available to patients. In particular, it says that it wants products with a wide range of THC to CBD ratios to be included in the programme, including high-THC medications that contain 20 parts THC to one part CBD.
Most of the products involved in the trial are expected to be imported from Canada and elsewhere, and the government has already licensed certain organisations to take charge of the distribution of these medications around France.
What Happens After The Two Years Are Up?
The government plans to closely monitor all aspects of the trial in order to assess whether or not to introduce permanent legislation allowing for the use of medical cannabis. An electronic national register will therefore be set up in order to record everything from efficacy and side-effects to the dosages used by patients and the ease of obtaining prescriptions.
All of the data recorded in this register will be presented as part of a report to parliament six months before the end of the trial, in order to allow politicians to debate on the next steps.
The ANSM says the decision to implement this initiative was influenced by the growing scientific evidence for the medical benefits of cannabis, as well as an ever-increasing demand from French doctors and patients. Some 3,000 people across France are expected to benefit from the trial, and hopes are high that many more will be able to access medical cannabis beyond the two-year probationary period.