July 15th, 2020
The number of Czech medical cannabis patients has more than doubled over the last 6 months with flower sales tripling since the introduction of a new reimbursement scheme.
During the first half of 2020, 26.8kg of cannabis flower has been dispensed to Czech patients, up from 6.4kg by the same time in 2019. While it is not known how many Czech patients there are in total for 2020, June was the first month on record where over 1,000 individual patients were prescribed medical cannabis.
Despite the Czech Republic being one of the first European countries to legalise the medical use of cannabis in 2013, the first years of the programme were riddled with supply shortages due to the cancellation of the first cultivation tender, as well as by a lack of authorised prescribers.
Medical cannabis is allowed in the Czech Republic for the treatment of a wide range of conditions including chronic pain, back pain, neurological disorders like MS, cachexia, Tourette’s syndrome and psoriasis. However, at 82% of total sales by weight, the majority of cannabis flower has been issued for pain conditions in 2020. In other markets like Germany or Australia, about 70% of medical cannabis prescriptions are issued for pain conditions. In 2020, 13% of the flower has been consumed by patients with spasticity or multiple sclerosis while the remainder was split across more than 90 conditions, including neurodegenerative conditions, cancers, epilepsy, headaches and an array of others.
Though the latest figures show strong growth in the country, the overall penetration of the product is still very limited within the country. To put it in context, the state of Michigan has a similar population as the Czech Republic, and has 250,000 patients enrolled in its medical cannabis scheme. Germany, a country with a population 8 times larger, consumed over 300 times the 17kg consumed in the Czech Republic in 2019.
Key in the recent developments of the Czech medical cannabis programme are measures taken by the government to improve the accessibility of cannabis treatments. This includes reimbursement by public health insurance of 90% of the cost of the product, up to a limit of 30 grams per month, as well as a price cap set at €6.41 per gram.
Affordability does not seem to be the barrier to higher patient access. In fact, the Czech Republic is currently one of the cheapest countries to buy medical cannabis in Europe. Instead, the Czech model struggles due to a lack of prescribers, as only doctors of particular specialities are eligible, due to the lengthy and arduous registration process. Only 162 prescribers are currently recorded in the country, whereas in other jurisdictions, like Germany or Poland, most doctors are able to write prescriptions at their discretion.
The Czech Republic possesses a small local production, tendered by the State Agency for Cannabis for Medical Use (SAKL) to the waste disposal company Elkoplast. However, its monopoly on Czech-grown cannabis won’t last long, as the government has announced plans to allow multiple licences for domestic cultivation and export of cannabis from 2021.