Middle East: In Israel, Medical Marijuana Advances in the Knesset and at Sheba Hospital

Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer has become the first hospital in Israel to administer medical marijuana to patients, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Tuesday. Some 20 patients have been treated with medical marijuana in a pilot program over the last six months, the newspaper reported. Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday that the Knesset's Labor, Social Affairs, and Health Committee had instructed the Health Ministry to finish its proposals for regulating medical marijuana use within four months. Such regulations should address the production, quality, and marketing of medical marijuana, as well as prevent diversion into non-medical markets. In Israel, people with cancer, multiple sclerosis or certain other conditions can apply for a license to receive a free supply of medical marijuana. It is provided by a charitable organization, Tikun Olam, which supplies it to some 700 patients. At Sheba Hospital, Ora Shamai, head nurse in the pain management program, has recently finished drafting a formal protocol for providing medical marijuana, another first for an Israel hospital. That draft has already been approved by the Health Ministry official in charge of approving medical marijuana treatments, Dr. Yehuda Baruch. The hospital is expected to soon approve the protocol. Under the protocol, if doctors determine a patient needs marijuana, the doctor in charge of his treatment will apply for the necessary permit from the ministry. Patients who can walk will be limited to smoking in the hospital's smoking room, while bedridden patients will only be allowed to smoke in private rooms with an open window. "We make it clear to the staff that smoking medical marijuana doesn't endanger the medical staff on the wards," Shamai said. "It does not harm those in the area via passive smoking." Doctors at Sheba downplayed any possible harms to patients from smoking marijuana on a limited basis. "It's certainly a dilemma, but it's the lesser of two evils," said Dr. Itay Gur-Arie, the head of Sheba's pain management unit. "When you're talking about smoking a joint or two a day, we don't think this causes short-term harm to the patients." Sheba is also making use of vaporizers, machines that heat marijuana but don't ignite it, allowing patients to inhale vapors instead of smoke. The Israel Association for the Advancement of Medical Cannabis, which has been involved in the pilot program from the onset, is now raising money to buy more. The hospital currently operates five. Along with Canada, Germany, Holland, and some American states, Israel has been a pioneer in accepting medical marijuana. With the Knesset action this week, Israel moves closer to setting up a regulated and expanded system. The Sheba hospital protocol is likewise on the cutting edge of medical marijuana acceptance by hospitals.
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