Consumption of medical cannabis has quadrupled in the Czech Republic

A new law that allows for health insurance to cover 90 percent of the cost led to the surge.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 07.01.2021 10:00 (updated on 07.01.2021)

The amount of medical cannabis being prescribed in the Czech Republic is on the rise. In 2020, patients were given a total of 66.8 kilograms of medical marijuana, while in 2019 the figure was 17 kilograms, according to data from the State Agency for Medical Cannabis (SAKL).

The number of doctors who prescribe cannabis, as well as patients who use it, has also increased. Doctors said the increase was because 90 percent of the price of cannabis has been covered by health insurance since last year.

At the end of 2019, there were 434 patients using medical cannabis. In December 2020 that figure had risen to 1,103 people, or about two and a half times as many. The number of doctors who prescribed cannabis also increased from 78 at the end of 2019 to 123 a year later. In total, doctors in 2019 issued 4,145 prescriptions, or about 345 prescriptions per month. For the whole of last year, they prescribed cannabis 14,167 times, an average of about 1,181 per month.

Therapeutic cannabis is used by patients, among other things, to relieve pain in cancer or arthritis, as well as people with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or AIDS.

After insurance companies started paying for medical cannabis, the amount of prescriptions increased significantly. In the Center for Diagnosis and Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis at the University Hospital Vinohrady (FNKV) in Prague, doctors recommend cannabis to patients as an additional treatment for muscle disorders or for neuropathic pain.

“They usually tolerate the treatment very well, and it is great that the problems are alleviated even in patients who have already exhausted the possibilities of regular pharmacotherapy. In most cases, these are patients who are disabled, so the possibility of reimbursing the cost of cannabis treatment is very welcome," Dr. Denisa Zimová told the Czech News Agency (ČTK).

Patients also are getting more cannabis from the palliative clinic in University Hospital Vinohrady. “Patients are also calling from a greater distances, not only from Prague. These are mainly patients with chronic pain who have already tried to get pain relief from cannabis from their own sources. So reimbursement certainly helped patients and made cannabis an affordable alternative,” Dr. Zuzana Křemenová said.

Czech law has allowed prescribing medical cannabis since 2013. At first there was no legal supplier, so it did not become available until two years later. Initially, it was only available from abroad, and according to patients it was too expensive.

Currently, SAKL has a contract with one Czech grower and is also supplied by foreign producers. According to an amendment approved by the government last year and awaiting discussion in Parliament, multi-supplier cultivation licenses could be granted and exports abroad would be possible.

Marijuana use without a prescription remains illegal in the Czech Republic, though having a small amount of dried cannabis or live plants for personal use has been decriminalized since 2010. Having larger amounts can result in a one-year sentence and penalties for selling cannabis are up to 18 years.

Recently, the Czech Pirate Party has been pushing for the legalization of recreational use of marijuana as well as ecstasy, mushrooms and LSD. So far the idea has made little progress and faces significant opposition.

Consumption of medical cannabis (in kg):

  • 2015: 0.84
  • 2016: 2.6
  • 2017: 1.2
  • 2018: 4.8
  • 2019: 17
  • 2020: 66.8