By Ruth Fraňková
A centre for research into the use of cannabis in medicine officially opened in Prague on Tuesday. The International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute has been created with the help of 500 million crown donations from the US and Canada and represents the biggest foreign investment in Czech medicine in recent years.
The International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute was established by a Canadian investor Benjamin Bronfman and its aim is to explore the use of medical marihuana and its components both with regard to existing medical knowledge and the experiences of patients. Tomáš Zábranský, the country’s leading drug expert and the head of science and research at the institute explains why it was established in the Czech Republic:
“One of the reasons is the very well-developed infrastructure, when it comes to research, technical development and equipment, and also when it comes to the expertise and tradition in research, which is somehow oriented to cannabis.
“The other reason, maybe an even more important one, has been the legal environment in the Czech Republic. In 2013 we legalised the medical use of cannabis with a special law which followed many consultations with the International Narcotic Control Board.
“So we have a special situation in the sense that we have a legal environment which is in fully accord with the international conventions which all the existing countries are signatory parties of and this is simply not the case for the United States and the other countries.”
According to Tomáš Zábranský, the legal environment in the Czech Republic also makes it easier to design and run large-scale clinical trials into medical cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids, compounds having the same effect as cannabis, which is also not the case elsewhere.
As a private company, the International Centre for Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute needs to generate profit, which will mainly be done by creating intellectual property, such as patents and patented procedures. Tomáš Zábranský outlines the other aims of the institute:
“It will also be providing services which would standardize the processes involved in the medical cannabis industry, i.e. standards for growing, processing, laboratory standards et cetera.
“We also want to issue a call for international standardization on reporting of clinical trials with medical cannabis and cannabinoids and on reporting on the side-effects of this treatment.
“And there is also a project on creating big data available for further analysis not only for our company but to have it as a public domain.”
The institute cooperates with a number of organizations worldwide, including the American Chemical Association, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and most of the Czech Republic’s top science schools.
Despite the introduction of the law on medical cannabis in 2013, insurance companies in the Czech Republic are still prohibited from including cannabis and related products into their insurance schemes, making it virtually unavailable for patients suffering with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses.
The country’s patient organization is preparing a petition calling on the ban to be lifted which could give a substantial boost to the use of medical cannabis in the country.