Green gold or gateway? DOH, FDA weigh in on moves to legalize Medical Cannabis

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Green gold or gateway? DOH, FDA weigh in on moves to legalize Medical Cannabis

The House Committee on Dangerous Drugs and the House Committee on Health on Tuesday jointly tackled 9 measures seeking to legalize medical cannabis for treatment of ailments in the Philippines.

The proposed measures discussed during the hearing also involved removing cannabis and its derivatives from the list of dangerous drugs in the country, and establishing a Philippine Cannabis Development Authority.

House Bill 4208 author Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte Jr. attested to the efficacy of medical cannabis in treating the symptoms of certain illnesses.

“You know, I’ve used it, I’ve tried it. Based on research abroad, it works. I have a lot of migraine symptoms, it cures us,” he said.

Villafuerte added that cannabis can also be a “cash crop” while proposing to start plantations in government-owned facilities.

The Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expressed support for legalizing medical cannabis as long as they are made available in “pharmaceutical” or “dosage” form like tablets or injectables.

"The Philippine FDA is in support of putting into market the medical cannabis in its finished form, not the raw form,” FDA Center for Drug Regulation and Research Director Jesusa Cirunay told the panels.

The Department of Health shared this view, adding that medical cannabis should still be subject to FDA regulations.

DOH Director Rodley Carza and UP Manila Department of Neurosciences Chairperson Dr. Carissa Dioquino, however, noted that while medical cannabis could provide relief to some symptoms, it does not cure diseases.

"The DOH acknowledges the potential use of cannabis provided that it is in the pharmaceutical form, instead of its plant form, which shall place the regulation of such for therapeutic use to the FDA, and allows review of benefits and risks during post marketing surveillance,” Carza said.

"The pharmaceutical form of cannabis primarily alleviates symptoms of some conditions… Relief primarily… it doesn’t cure the disease,” he added.

"Medical cannabis will only relieve some of the symptoms, can reduce the seizure frequency in the case of cannabidiol, but it will not treat the disease. Same with the other medical forms approved by the US FDA, they only relieve spastic symptoms, but they will not cure multiple sclerosis,” Dr. Carissa Dioquino, a neurologist from the University of the Philippine-Manila explained.

MEDICAL VS RECREATIONAL

Meanwhile, Dr. Cabral Lim of the UP Manila Department of Neurosciences opposed the legalization of medical cannabis, citing the experience in some countries, which “progressed” to recreational use.

She added that other medicines, for the symptoms that medical cannabis relieve, are available.

 “I am an epileptologist, I will not deny my patients the medicine if they need. But 70% of our patients can be treated with the conventional medications. There’s a 30% that’s very difficult to treat… It doesn’t mean that if you give cannabis, there’s not even a guarantee that seizures will be controlled, the data will be that the seizures might be controlled, might decrease… If you review the literature, there is a new anti-seizure medicine introduced in the market, the efficacy is almost just similar,” Lim said.

 “There is very recent data, in 2023 looking at the different states. Because when they look at the data on medical and recreational they can no longer differentiate what is medical and recreational. There is no state that started as medical and then did not progress to recreational,” she added.

Advocates, however, asserted that Filipinos have a right to get the treatment they need.

“Science has already been established that cannabis is medicine, and we highly believe as patients this is a basic human right of Filipino citizen, the basic human right to access our right to health,” Dr. Donnabel Cunanan of Philippine Cannabis Compassion Society said.

“As a mother who experienced the worst conditions, to see my daughter suffer 100 seizures daily, it is never a crime to look for an alternative option. Patients are not criminals,” she stressed.

The joint committees created a technical working group to refine the bills on medical cannabis.

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