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“I fight on in my mother’s memory”: The campaign for medical cannabis in Romania

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Currently access to medical cannabis is prohibited in Romania

After seeing how cannabis helped her mum’s battle with cancer, Alexandra Carstea is leading the campaign for medical legalisation in Romania in her memory.

Next week, lawyer and mum-of-one, Alexandra Carstea, will bring together clinicians, researchers and campaigners from across the globe, for the first international medical cannabis conference hosted in Romania.

She hopes the online event, on Tuesday 23 February, will be the final push for the long-awaited legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes in her home country.

“We’re at a point where a few years ago, I couldn’t imagine we would ever be,” says Alexandra.

“At times I have felt very lonely, disappointed and heartbroken but I kept on fighting and now I am optimistic and hope that we will have the law passed this year.”

The bill is named after Alexandra’s mother, Victoria (which happens to translate as victory in English) who passed away from cancer-related complications in 2019.

Victoria was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in 2015 and given only a few months to live.

“All our lives completely changed from that moment on,” remembers Alexandra.

“Until then I had never imagined I would become an advocate for cannabis.”

Her mother underwent a successful operation, but two years later was diagnosed with bone metastases which had spread to her down her spine and into her hips.

The only medical treatment available to her was a powerful cocktail of prescription drugs, which left her with little quality of life.

“It completely changed her way of living, she couldn’t speak, she couldn’t sleep, she had nightmares, it was a terrible period of time for the whole family,” says Alexandra.

“The doctor told me that she was close to kidney failure and that was the moment that I realised that if she doesn’t die of cancer, she will die of her other organs failing as a result of the medication she was on.

“I knew if she carried on taking these pills she wouldn’t survive, so I decided to look for other solutions for the pain.”

Victoria Carstea

Alexandra began reading about cannabis (at the time, in 2016, CBD was not yet available in Romania) and paid for online consultations with medical professionals in the US and Canada.

She tried to broach the topic with her mother’s doctors, but they “turned their backs” on her every time.

“If I started to talk about cannabis to her oncologist they would tell me it was illegal and had no medical value,” she says.

“It was exhausting because as I kept finding out more, I wanted my mum to have the option to try it.”

Alexandra launched a national petition to legalise medical cannabis which quickly gathered signatures, and began talking to national cancer associations and patient groups to spread the word.

Meanwhile, as a professional lawyer, with a father who was a judge, she risked everything to illegally source cannabis for her mum.

“In my family everything was about obeying the law and being upstanding citizens. I didn’t want to turn to the black market, but I was so desperate and my mother was so sick that taking her to another country wasn’t an option,” she says.

“Back then there was no information out there, so it was my responsibility.

“I managed to lower the dose of the pills that the doctors gave her and after a few weeks she started to become engaged in her life again. She was talking, eating, sleeping, her anxiety was gone and she was optimistic.

“But I couldn’t buy the amount she needed in a consistent quality from the black market.”

Alexandra continues: “My mum was actually very positive about it and did a lot of lobbying from her hospital bed. Everywhere she went she told doctors and patients about cannabis treatment and encouraged them to support the petition.”

Victoria started chemotherapy at the end of 2018, but in early 2019 was hospitalised with a complication and passed away on 26 January.

Alexandra with mum, Victoria

“That was a very difficult period ,” remembers Alexandra, who also fell pregnant around the same time.

“After a struggle of four and half years I was hit by the exhaustion, depression and anxiety. I felt everything that I had restrained to keep myself optimistic for her.

“But I wanted to keep on fighting in her memory.”

A few months after her mother died, Alexandra convinced a Romanian politician to put forward the bill in parliament, while she continued to send information to politicians and medical professionals across the country.

However, she says unlike in the UK, the media were not supportive of her campaign and she faced criticism for openly talking about an illegal drug.

“Romania is a very conservative nation and no one would speak about it. I would give interviews to the press and they would always take what I said out of context,” she says.

During lockdown last year, unable to campaign in person, Alexandra started her own YouTube channel to raise awareness of medical cannabis.

Through this she connected with advocates from all over the world, including UK campaigner and director of the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society, Hannah Deacon and Professor Mike Barnes, who obtained the first full legal licence to prescribe cannabis in the UK, as well as Dr Andrew Agius, founder and medical director of The Pain Clinic in Malta.

Professor Barnes and Dr Agius were among the experts who agreed to deliver lectures for Romanian doctors, and all three will speak part of the International Medical Cannabis Conference next week.

Alexandra Carstea

Other speakers include Professor David Nutt and Dr Anne Katrin Schlag of Drug Science and Project Twenty21 in the UK, Spain’s Dr Christina Sanchez and cannabis researcher, Dr Ethan Russo, alongside doctors, advocates and scientists from all over the world.

The event will be attended by medical professionals and politicians from across Romania, including one of the country’s leading neurologists, who has publicly shown his support for the campaign.

“There is more attention on cannabis now, people are responding and asking for information and doctors are trying to educate themselves,” says Alexandra.

“I’m bringing specialists from all over the world together in one place, so everyone can access the information.

“I want to create a network of experts and share it with those in Romania.”

She adds: “You cannot forget the pain you feel when someone you love is suffering so much, but from pain beautiful things grow, such as the desire to share what you know and help others.”

“There are many people who left messages on the petition, explaining that they are in the same situation that I was; buying from the black market, fearing problems with the law and having to travel to other countries to access treatment.

“It’s difficult when you have lost someone, but you keep on fighting for other people.”

The International Medical Cannabis Conference takes place on Tuesday 23 February from 12pm GMT.

For more information and updates follow Canabis medicinal in Romania on Facebook and visit the website here 

 

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Weekend digest: Six big stories from the cannabis world you might have missed

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Another week, another rollercoaster in the fast-moving world of cannabis.

At Cannabis Health, our in depth coverage of the ongoing growth of cannabis as a medical and wellness product continues

Meanwhile, over at Cannabis Wealth, we’ve been following all the big industry and policy news in a week which has seen some important developments..

Been busy and want to get caught up in a hurry?

Here are the six things you need to read to stay in the loop this week.

1. Products pulled from shelves

Two batches of medical cannabis products have been recalled by regulators as investigations are carried out, following reports they may be contaminated with mould.

Medical cannabis pharmacy, Dispensary Green and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have issued a ‘precautionary’ product recall since being made aware of ‘defects’ in patient’s medication.

Concerns were initially raised after a number of medical cannabis patients spotted what they believed to be mould spores in their prescriptions.

Full story here.

2. NFL turns to medical cannabis

The National Football League (NFL) in America is providing $1 million in funding for research into pain management and cannabinoids.

The NFL is funding research into medical cannabis.

The pain management committee of the NFL and the NFL Players Association announced it would stump up the funding on Tuesday 8 June.

According to the organisation’s news platform, the move is the next step in a shifting attitude towards players who use medicinal cannabis to manage pain from injuries.

You can read more here.

3. More medical cannabis evidence

Researchers have found that the cannabinoids CBD and CBG, when used in combination, are beneficial for treating inflammation in the lungs.

Scientists at King’s College London, working in collaboration with Sativa Wellness Group have published the first results from a study into the impact of cannabinoids on respiratory diseases.

It aimed to investigate the anti-inflammatory effects of the two non-psychotropic cannabinoids alone and in combination, in a model of pulmonary inflammation.

Full details here.

4. Germany to vote for reform?

Germany’s national election on September 26 could be a landmark moment for Europe’s cannabis industry.

As Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to leave the stage, the European Union’s most influential country looks destined for a political shakeup.

Annalena Baerbock could become Germany’s first pro-drug reform Chancellor.

It could mark a huge moment for the cannabis industry as Germany’s parliament might swing in favour of legislation.

Here’s everything you need to know about it.

5. Adapt or fail

The pro-drug reform lobby must accept it has failed and change to push its agenda ahead, leading experts have warned.

Speaking at a Global Cannabis Intelligence event about the state of advocacy in the UK, three leading policy advocates set out how they think greater access can be achieved.

The discussion comes week after the 50-year anniversary of the passage of the The Misuse of Drugs Act.

Read the full story here.

6. Isle of Man steps up

The Isle of Man government has declared it is open for business to the medical cannabis industry.

In a big to create 250 new jobs and generate £3m a year for the island, policymakers want it to become ‘a world-leading exporter’.

Applications are now open for licences to produce and distribute treatments on the island, as well as to use it as an export base.

Full details here.

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News

New tracking app launches for UK medical cannabis patients

Through the app patients will be able to monitor their own symptoms and medication usage

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The free health monitoring app is already being used elsewhere in the world.

UK medical cannabis suppliers Grow Pharma have teamed up with an Australian tech firm to launch a new app for patients.

The partnership with OnTracka will see them launch Calyx, a free health monitoring app already being used elsewhere in the world.

Users will be able to monitor their own symptoms and medication usage, speak securely with their doctor and contribute to gathering evidence about the use of medical cannabis.

The app will also be available in Ireland and the Channel Islands after successful launches in Australia, the US and South America.

Users will be able to monitor their own symptoms and medication usage

Pierre Van Weperen, CEO of Grow Pharma said: “Grow Pharma is currently fulfilling around a third of all prescriptions for the UK’s medicinal cannabis patients.

“Our prominent role gives us a significant advantage to building data insights into how patients are managing their health.

“This is integral to pave the way towards increasing access for patients in the UK through providing doctors with confidence around the safety and efficacy of these products.

“Using the app will generate important insights to provide real-time evidence to doctors and regulators.”

Grow Pharma hopes the app will help ‘rapidly accelerate an understanding of the safety, quality, and efficacy’ of medical cannabis.

Insights gained via the app will ‘advance the industry forward in the service of patients, shaping future legislation and policy based on patient experiences’ by providing real-world data to regulators.

Grow is in the process of raising £6 million worth of capital via a private funding round expect to be completed later this month.

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Isle of Man launches medical cannabis export sector

The Isle of Man is open for business to the medical cannabis industry.

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The move could 250 new jobs and generate £3 million a year for the island

The Isle of Man government has declared it is open for business to the medical cannabis industry.

In a big to create 250 new jobs and generate £3 million a year for the island, policymakers want it to become ‘a world-leading exporter’.

Applications are now open for licences to produce and distribute treatments on the island, as well as to use it as an export base.

The island’s regulator – the Gambling Supervision Commission – has set out conditions for the licensing of high-THC cannabis and hemp.

Enterprise minister Laurence Skelly said: “The growing global medicinal cannabis market provides significant opportunity for economic development in the Isle of Man, and the new regulatory framework and guidance will offer stringent and flexible licensing of a broad range of cannabis products, which ranges from outdoor grown industrial hemp to indoor grown medicinal products.

“The Isle of Man Government has every confidence that the GSC will provide a world class regulatory structure required to regulate this new and complex industry.

The Isle of Man wants to be a major player in Europe’s growing medical cannabis industry.

“I am delighted to welcome licence applications and look forward to attracting quality businesses to the Island, transforming the cannabis export sector into a key contributor to the Isle of Man’s post-Covid economic recovery.”

The self-governing British Crown Dependency, which has a population of 83,000, approved new medical cannabis laws in January.

The island’s parliament – the Tynwald – moved to attract the industry to its shores after a public consultation showed 95 percent of residents were in favour of the policy.

Mark Rutherford, director of policy at the island’s regulator, said: “The GSC already has a sophisticated framework for supervising gambling.

‘We have worked carefully to apply the best of that framework to the risks in the new sector and we have educated ourselves in the technical areas that are new to us.

“What we now have will ensure that all stakeholders will be competent, crime free and capable of building a sector that is safe, trusted and efficient.

“As regulators, we aspire to put our regulatory umbrella above as many consumers as possible so that they can benefit from regulations that are well thought out and properly supervised.

“Years of prohibition mean that the markets in which our licensees will be participating are still in their infancy and still contain many uncertainties.

“To address this situation, it is our aim to ensure that consumers who purchase Isle of Man products will be able to understand exactly what their product contains through accurate labelling and independent testing.

“The GSC recognises there are many stakeholders in this newly created field and intends to extend its ethos of cooperation with other government authorities into its approach to cannabis regulation.”

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