Drug Policy Reform Advocates Call for Access to Cannabis and Psychedelic Therapy for Mental Health Patients in Eastern Europe Amidst Ongoing War in Ukraine
As the number of refugees in Lithuania continues to grow, it is crucial to address the mental health needs of these individuals. Many refugees have experienced trauma, displacement, and loss, which can have a profound impact on their psychological well-being. Unfortunately, mental health services can be limited for refugees, leaving many struggling to manage their symptoms and find a path towards healing.
Despite ongoing conflicts, lack of funding, and state repression, NGOs continue to push for drug policy reform in Eastern Europe. Representatives from the Lithuanian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian drug advocacy scenes gathered together on 27 April in Vilnius, Lithuania, to share their experiences and perspectives on the current landscape of the movement.
Providing access to THC-containing cannabis and psychedelic therapy could significantly improve the quality of life for refugees in Lithuania. These treatments offer a non-invasive and potentially effective way to manage symptoms and work towards healing and recovery. It is essential that mental health services for refugees are expanded to include these promising treatment options. By doing so, we can help to ensure that refugees receive the care and support they need to rebuild their lives and thrive in their new home.
In this article we focus on cannabis as the most researched and widely used controlled substance with proven medical benefits.
Main uses of THC in medicine
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive compound found in cannabis, and it has been studied for its potential therapeutic uses. Some of the main uses of THC-containing cannabis in medicine include:
Pain Relief: THC has been found to have analgesic properties and can help alleviate pain caused by conditions such as neuropathy, cancer, and chronic pain. It works by activating cannabinoid receptors in the brain and nervous system.
- Tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol medicines for chronic pain and mental health conditions, 2022, Inflammopharmacology
- Medical Cannabis for the Management of Pain and Quality of Life in Chronic Pain Patients: A Prospective Observational Study, 2020, Pain Medicine
- Cannabinoids for neuropathic pain, 2014, Current Pain and Headache Reports
Appetite Stimulation: THC can stimulate the appetite and help patients who are experiencing weight loss or lack of appetite due to cancer or HIV/AIDS. This effect is commonly referred to as “the munchies.”
- Cannabinoids and appetite: Food craving and food pleasure, 2009, International Review of Psychiatry
- Endogenous cannabinoids and appetite, 2001, Nutrition Research Reviews
- Therapeutic Potential of Cannabinoids in CNS Disease, 2003, CNS Drugs
Nausea and Vomiting: THC has been shown to be effective in reducing nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy or other medical treatments.
- Regulation of nausea and vomiting by cannabinoids, 2011, British Journal of Pharmacology
- Cannabinoids for control of chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting: quantitative systematic review, 2001, British medical journal
- Cannabinoids for nausea and vomiting in adults with cancer receiving chemotherapy, 2015, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Muscle Spasticity: THC has muscle-relaxant properties and can be helpful in treating muscle spasms and stiffness associated with conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
- Treatment of Human Spasticity with Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, 1981, Clinical Pharmacology
- Cannabinoids in the management of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, 2008, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment
Glaucoma: THC has been found to lower intraocular pressure in the eyes, which can help relieve symptoms of glaucoma, a condition that can lead to blindness.
- Marijuana Smoking vs Cannabinoids for Glaucoma Therapy, 1998, Archives of ophthalmology
- More research is needed
PTSD: THC can help alleviate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by reducing anxiety, improving sleep, and decreasing flashbacks.
- Cannabis: A potential efficacious intervention for PTSD or simply snake oil? 2019, Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience
- More research is needed
There are several groups of people who suffer from the inability to access THC as a medicine, including patients with chronic pain, cancer patients, people with HIV/AIDS, veterans with PTSD and people with neurological conditions.
Pathways to legalize medical cannabis
The most common pathways to legalize THC-containing cannabis for medical use worldwide include:
Legalization by legislative action. This involves the passing of laws by a legislative body to legalize THC-containing cannabis for medical use. This can be done at the federal or state/provincial level, depending on the country’s legal structure. Countries like Canada, Australia, and Germany have legalized medical cannabis through this pathway.
Legalization through a ballot initiative. This involves the use of a voter-driven ballot initiative to legalize THC-containing cannabis for medical use. This pathway is often used in the United States, where several states, including California, have legalized medical cannabis through this process.
Court-ordered legalization. This involves a court ruling that medical cannabis should be legalized for specific medical conditions. This pathway has been used in countries like Italy and the United Kingdom, where courts have ordered the government to allow medical cannabis for specific conditions.
Decriminalization. This involves the removal of criminal penalties for the possession and use of THC-containing cannabis for medical purposes. Decriminalization does not necessarily mean full legalization, but it allows patients to access medical cannabis without fear of prosecution. Countries like Portugal and Spain have decriminalized cannabis possession, including for medical purposes.
Legalization through regulatory approval. This involves the approval of THC-containing cannabis for medical use by regulatory bodies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States. Once approved, medical cannabis can be prescribed and dispensed by licensed healthcare professionals. This pathway is used in countries like the United States and Canada, where certain THC-containing cannabis products have been approved for medical use by regulatory bodies.
The Lithuanian way
Legalizing medical cannabis in Lithuania will require a tailored approach that takes into account the local laws and cultural attitudes.
Before making any decisions, it’s essential to conduct research on the medical benefits of cannabis and how it is used to treat various medical conditions. This will help to educate policymakers, healthcare professionals, and the public on the potential benefits of medical cannabis.
It’s crucial to raise awareness about medical cannabis to create public support for legalization. This can be done through educational campaigns and public discussions that highlight the benefits and dispel myths and misconceptions about cannabis.
A regulatory framework that outlines the conditions for the production, distribution, and use of medical cannabis must be developed. This framework should include measures to ensure quality control, patient safety, and prevent misuse.
Starting with a pilot program that allows for limited access to medical cannabis can be a good way to assess its impact and effectiveness. This approach can help address concerns about the potential risks associated with cannabis use and help build support for legalization.
Healthcare professionals play a critical role in the use of medical cannabis, and it’s essential to involve them in the process of legalization. This can be done through training programs and by establishing guidelines and protocols for the use of medical cannabis in medical practice.
Engaging with international organizations that support medical cannabis legalization can be helpful in providing guidance, expertise, and resources. Organizations such as the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines and the European Medicines Agency can provide valuable support in the process of legalizing medical cannabis.
It’s important to note that legalizing medical cannabis is a complex process that requires careful planning and consideration of various factors. It may take time to develop a regulatory framework that is effective and acceptable to all stakeholders. However, with the right approach, medical cannabis can be legalized in Lithuania to benefit patients who need it.