France gives final go-ahead for medical cannabis testing programme

If the testing programme turns out to be a success, France could become the 23rd European country allowing medical use of cannabis.

France gives final go-ahead for medical cannabis testing programme
A hemp plant growing in France. Photo: AFP

For two years, 3,000 patients in France will be able too legally use cannabis as treatment for their illnesses.

Set to last for a period of two years, the testing programme “authorises experimentation with the therapeutic use of cannabis in a controlled and limited setting with patients suffering from serious illnesses,” according to the government's website.

While it had been in the books for a long time, experiment first got the green light when the government published a decree in the Journal Officiel last week.

The two-year testing period will start as soon as the first medical prescription is made. The final deadline for to begin the programme is March 31st 2021.

What kind of illnesses does it concern?

Only patients suffering from serious illnesses will be included in the programme.

Illnesses concerned are those for which regular treatments either are inefficient or not efficient enough, such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.

The drug will also be experimented to fight secondary effects of chemotherapy and as palliative care.

France's ANSM medicines regulator outlined the groups of illnesses to reflect existing needs, and the goal is to see whether cannabis can be efficient where regular treatments are not.

Free of charge

The cannabis will be free of charge for the patients, covered by the businesses participating in the experiment.

The cannabis will be distributed in the form of pills, oils or dried flowers. Patients will not be allowed to smoke the cannabis.

Patient were informed about the possible side-effects of the drug.

Smoking still illegal

Smoking cannabis is still illegal in France, with a €200 fine if you get caught. 

The programme was voted through the French parliament in October 2019, and before that it had  already given the green light by France's ANSM medicines regulator.

Until now, only CBD cannabidiol, a cannabidoid found in cannabis, was allowed by the government. 

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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.