Cannabis is called ‘medicinal’ when it is used to treat a medical condition, and when it is of pharmaceutical quality. In 2003 the Dutch government decided to supply such cannabis through the official pharmacy system. The company Bedrocan BV cultivates the cannabis plants needed, under supervision of the Office for Medicinal Cannabis.
An old medicine
Medicinal cannabis is not new at all. In fact, the cannabis plant is mentioned in many of the oldest books on medicine known to mankind. In the early 20th century, cannabis-based medications were immensely popular. At the high of its popularity almost 30 medicines were available with cannabis as important ingredient, ranging from tinctures to cigarettes. Because of political developments, the use of cannabis as a medicine has largely vanished ever since. (see also: short history)
There are many medical conditions and symptoms for which modern medicine has not (yet) developed an acceptable treatment. It is therefore not surprising that patients in such situations look for complementary and alternative forms of treatment, including self-medication. One result is that some patients already started using cannabis a long time ago, in order to treat their condition. It should be understood that not all claimed therapeutic effects of cannabis can yet be supported by scientific studies. However, for some serious conditions there seems to be sufficient scientific data to justify the use of medicinal grade cannabis by approved patients.
On prescription only
Medicinal cannabis in the Netherlands is only available on prescription from a licensed health care practitioner, through a pharmacy. Most Dutch health care practitioners follow the general guideline that cannabis is prescribed when conventional drug treatment is ineffective, or when it causes intolerable side effects.