By / April 22, 2024

Portugal Exports About 99.85% of Medical Cannabis, Selling Only 17 Kilograms Locally

In 2023, Portugal exported 11 tons of medical cannabis, but only 17 kilograms were sold on the domestic market. Although medical cannabis is legal in Portugal, local patients still have limited access to it and are often forced to seek medication on the black market.

The contrast between the scale of production and the availability of medical cannabis is illustrated by the story of Paula Motta from Porto, whose daughter suffers from Dravet syndrome. The discovery of medical cannabis in 2017, when the substance was still illegal, changed her child’s life. Currently, although the legal situation has improved, many challenges remain unresolved.

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Historical and Legal Background

Portugal was the first country in the world to decriminalize the recreational use of all drugs in 2001. The next step was the legalization of medical cannabis in 2018 and the introduction of regulations in 2019 that were supposed to enable the use of cannabis-based products for medicinal purposes. Unfortunately, despite these advances, access to medical cannabis remains severely limited.

Paula Motta, co-founder of the organization Mothers for Cannabis, is still in a legal gray area because the cannabis oil she uses for her daughter is not legal in Portugal. Her activities and support for other parents facing similar problems highlight the existing gaps in the system.

Current Medical Cannabis Situation in Portugal

In 2023, the only product containing cannabis available on the Portuguese market was dried flower from the Canadian company Tilray with 18% THC content. The price of one package (15g) was 150 euros, which significantly exceeds the prices on the black market. Moreover, flowers can only be prescribed to patients suffering from one of seven specific conditions, for which all other “pharmacological” options have failed. Unfortunately, the largest national pharmaceutical companies do not stock this product, and in 2023 only just over a thousand packages were sold, equivalent to 17 kilograms.

Meanwhile, in the first half of 2023 alone, the country exported over 5.4 tons of this product, with Germany, Poland, and Australia being the main recipients. Despite impressive export figures, the local market remains in its infancy in terms of cannabis sales in pharmacies.

By mid-2023, Portugal had supplied 1678 kg to Germany, 1589 kg to Poland, and 955 kg to Australia – according to the latest report published by the Portuguese Pharmaceutical Institute Infarmed. These data from the first half of 2023 show the dynamic development of the Portuguese sector of medical cannabis, which seems to be just beginning to reach its full potential. However, despite impressive exports, only 17 kg of cannabis were sold domestically in pharmacies, showing that medical cannabis is still rarely prescribed in the country.

Role and Impact of Pharmaceutical Companies

In the landscape of medical cannabis in Portugal, companies such as Somai Pharmaceuticals, which was founded in 2019, play a crucial role. Although Somai aims to become a global leader in the industry, none of the company’s 80 different pharmaceutical products are available in Portugal. Michael Sassano, the founder of the company, expressed hope for the quick registration of new products and entry into the Portuguese market, but emphasized that the market is still relatively small compared to giants like Australia or Germany.

Few doctors in Portugal have knowledge about cannabinoids. Dr. Ana Rita Andrade, who runs the Kanabclinic, is one of the few specialists in this area and offers online consultations regarding medical cannabis. The challenge in medical education and stereotypes associated with using cannabis constitute a significant barrier to access to treatment.

Prospects and Hopes for the Future in Portugal

Recently, three new products containing medical cannabis received the green light to enter the Portuguese market. Carla Dias, president of the Portuguese observatory for cannabis, hopes that the availability of medical cannabis in the country will improve. Meanwhile, in February, the European Commission registered a citizen’s initiative calling for better access to medical cannabis, which may bring changes in regulations at the EU level.

Although Portugal is one of the leaders in cannabis production in the European Union, local patients still struggle with access to medical cannabis. Further changes in legislation and medical education are needed so that patients can fully benefit from the potential advantages of cannabis treatment. The example of Paula Motta and other parents fighting for a better life for their children underscores how important it is for these changes to occur as soon as possible.

(Featured image by Budding . via Unsplash)

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