By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

MEDICAL industry leaders are asking lawmakers to further study the bill seeking to legalize the use of medical cannabis or marijuana, citing the need for more conclusive evidence of its healing properties as many physicians agree that its use may cause more harm than benefits.

“There is still much to be learned on the use of medical marijuana,” Jose Rene D. de Grano, president of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, Inc., said in a Viber message.

“Most of the medical societies do not agree on its being released yet for medical use since most of the materials given are anecdotal and not evidence-based,” the medical doctor added.

The House Committees on Dangerous Drugs and on Health approved last week a bill that allows the use of medical marijuana.

The Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) asked legislators to create specific training or curriculum for doctors or pharmacies on the proper prescription and release of medical cannabis.

“Healthcare professionals may need continued trainings so that they could meet the legitimate medical needs of patients based on evidence-based clinical guidelines while being vigilant against potential abuse,” Teodoro B. Padilla, PHAP executive director, said in an e-mail.

The public must also be educated on the risks of prescription drug abuse, Mr. Padilla said.

He said the government must also ensure an effective prescription drug monitoring program to avoid potential misuse and abuse of the substance.

“For any pharmaceutical products to benefit patients with their treatment, they must go through the rigid research and development process to determine their efficacy and safety,” Mr. Padilla said.

The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) maintained its opposition to the bill, citing the “clear trend towards the harmful effects [of marijuana] that outweigh the purported benefits.”

The PMA deems it unnecessary to pass a new law to access medical cannabis. “Legislation will not be able to catch up with the advances of health technology, and health technology should not be legislated,” the group said in a statement last week.

However, the association that represents 21 medical groups based in the Philippines, said: “The medical community supports the use of FDA (Food and Drug Administration)-approved medical cannabis for specific indications.”

Cannabidiol is a chemical in the cannabis sativa plant, also known as cannabis or hemp. One specific form of cannabidiol is approved as a drug in the US for seizures, according to WebMD.

The PMA stressed that the conduct of research on medical marijuana, along with the re-classification or delisting of any drug in the Dangerous Drug Board’s drug list, is already included in Republic Act No. 9165 (Dangerous Drugs Act).

“Legalization of cannabis will send a wrong message especially to our youth that our government considers cannabis as a safe substance and therefore will expose our citizens to unnecessary harm,” the PMA added.

The PMA’s statement was published a day before lawmakers approved the measure.

Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace S. Barbers, who heads the dangerous drugs panel, said the bill does not seek to legalize marijuana, and will not be removed from the country’s list of illegal drugs under the RA 9165.

Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems and seeds from the plant, which contains the mind-altering chemical THC and other similar compounds.

One of the earliest uses of medical cannabis was in 2737 B.C., when Chinese emperor Shen Neng prescribed marijuana tea for the treatment of gout, rheumatism, malaria and poor memory.

The PMA called to focus on educating the public on the use of marijuana for medical conditions, as well as the dangers of using the drug for unproven medical indications and non-medical use.