The news that a synthetic form of a hemp-based oil will soon be hitting the Maltese market was met with outrage by several people, who argued it is unfair to allow in an extremely expensive product while at the same time ban the natural form of the oil.
Lovin Malta can confirm, after contacting the Medicines Authority’s chairperson Prof. Anthony Serracino Inglott, that discussions are underway to extend the Drug Dependence Act to include synthetic cannabinoids.
We also met up with renowned oncologist Nick Refalo, who provided the specialist’s signature needed for the drug to be imported to the island.
He said that he had been approached by Paul Apap Bologna, managing director of the pharmaceutical distributing company Associated Drug Company (ADC), to request that he sign an application that would allow ADC to import the drug into Malta.
Unlike previously reported, this in no way means that Refalo is the only Maltese oncologist who will be able to prescribe the drug – indeed, all consultants in oncology, neurology, radiotherapy, anaesthesia, intensive care medicine and psychiatry will be able to prescribe it to their patients if they believe there are no viable alternatives.
Refalo said he agreed to sign it because there exists scientific proof that the drug is an effective one, and is indeed used to alleviate pain amongst patients at the Dove Clinic for chronic pain in the UK.
He said that such proof does not, as yet, exist for the natural form of CBD oil – a herbal remedy containing cannabidiol (CBD) one of two main active ingredients derived from cannabis. Unlike the synthetic stuff, the natural CBD oil also contains strains of THC – the second, and the psychoactive, active ingredient derived from cannabis.
Some doctors, including Maltese family doctor Andrew Agius, argue that the natural hemp oil works wonders because CBD and the have a synergistic effect. Indeed, Agius has said that many of his patients who were treated with the oil ended up dropping their daily cocktail of pills and that one specific patient went from being bed bound to opening her own business.
However, Refalo said that there is no proof that this is the case, and that cases of patients who recovered after taking the natural hemp oil cannot be used to extrapolate that the oil is medically effective.
Indeed, he warned that some of his patients who had taken the natural CBD oil had suffered from side effects such as fear and anxiety, side effects that they didn’t feel after taking the synthetic oil.
“There are so many supposedly magic cures for cancer that can be purchased online and some patients end up buying them even when their doctors explicitly tell them not to,” he said.
However, he predicted that hemp oil will one day hit the shelves of Maltese pharmacies once further research is conducted, an eventuality he will welcome because it will allow the market to be regulated.
Yet, until that time comes, the only hemp oil available in Malta will be the extremely expensive synthetic form – 20ml of the oil that is 5% synthetic CBD costs around €700, while the same volume of the oil that is 10% synthetic CBD will cost €1,500. This makes it around ten times as expensive as natural CBD oil.
Refalo admitted that the high price was a concern and that it will essentially price the average people out of buying it.
Lovin Malta has contacted the distributor – Associated Drug Company – for comment but has not received a response as of the time of writing.