Medicinal Cannabis In Israel: Patients & Caregivers
Over the last few years, Israel has put itself firmly on the global map of medicinal cannabis with an established system serving over 20,000 patients, and a healthy approach to research and evidence-based legislation.
The emerging scene in Israel has already spawned dozens of new startups eager to carve out a niche, and has seen several valuable contributions to the field. One innovative young company is Eybna Technologies, which produces plant-derived, strain-specific terpene formulations.
I’ve come to check out the scene in Tel Aviv, and hosted by my friends at Eybna, I’m hoping to meet some of the industry’s most important members. I also plan to talk with the people that matter most—the patients themselves—to hear how the system works for them.
How Medicinal Cannabis Works in Israel
The Israeli medicinal cannabis supply system is unique, and consists of eight government-licensed producers serving approximately 23,000 patients. Patients receive a license from the Medical Cannabis Unit of the Ministry of Health, permitting them a specific quantity of medicinal cannabis per month, in the form of flowers, oils, tinctures or capsules.
Patients are charged a flat rate of 370 shekels (around $100) per month—regardless of quantity (which varies immensely, with some patients receiving 10g per month and some receiving 100 or more). For a further 100 shekels ($26), the cannabis will be delivered directly to the patient’s home.
There are just two physical dispensaries in Tel Aviv—one managed by licensed producer, Tikun Olam, and another central dispensary situated in a psychiatric hospital (a fact that some patients are not entirely comfortable with). A third is situated at the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and is operated by the Hebrew University. Patients who are unable or unwilling to collect their prescription in person usually opt for home delivery.
Israel’s Medicinal Cannabis Providers
Israel currently has eight government-licensed medical cannabis producers. I don’t have time to meet every single supplier, but I am grateful to be meeting with three—Seach Ltd, Teva Adir and Tikun Olam.
Teva Adir—“Cannabis From The Holy Land”
First, I meet Geri Kolin, owner of medical cannabis provider, Teva Adir. Geri has been in the game for more than 12 years, and for the vast majority of that time, his efforts were rewarded merely by seeing his patients getting happier and healthier.
It’s only in the last few years that his work has started to pay off in a literal sense, but even now, profits are difficult to guarantee. With the flat-rate system, new patients could be profitable if they have a small prescription or cost the provider a lot more than they bring in if their prescription is large.
This doesn’t put Geri off pursuing his life’s work. He maintains a ranch in the middle of the Negev desert, furnished with a greenhouse in which he is busy developing new strains that thrive in arid climates. In the future, he hopes to offer holistic health retreats and tours at the ranch—saying, “It’s a place where you can really relax and learn to use cannabis in the right way.”
His tagline, I’m delighted to note, reads, “Cannabis From The Holy Land.” I will soon learn that these whimsical, creative details are a fundamental part of the scene here—and are a fundamental part of the process of normalizing cannabis.
Tikun Olam—Creators Of Avidekel
Tikun Olam is undoubtedly the best-known of all the Israeli providers, having been internationally lauded for developing the high-CBD, low-THC medicinal strain Avidekel. This medicinal masterpiece boasts CBD levels of up to 18 percent, CBC levels of 1.1 percent and THC levels as low as 0.8 percent. In addition to Avidekel, Tikun Olam offers 15 other strains, with varying cannabinoid and terpene ratios suited to a range of different illnesses.
Tikun Olam’s vivacious International Relations Officer, Ma’ayan Weisberg, greets us outside the dispensary before taking us inside to show us how it all works. Ma’ayan shows me a medical cannabis license belonging to a patient and explains that they hold around 7,000 patients on their books—and as such, are the single biggest provider in the country.
Ma’ayan explains that patient education and research are of the utmost importance at Tikun Olam. Pediatric medicine is also greatly emphasized, and in the children’s room, a large, brightly-painted mural dominates the wall. It features bees, ladybugs, flowers—and a large, precisely-detailed representation of a female cannabis plant.
“Israel’s medicinal cannabis scene is unique, progressive and very well-developed in global terms…”
Seach–The Burning Bush
The last on our list of medical cannabis providers was Seach Ltd, fronted by the gentle, deeply-religious giant Shay Avraham. Seach directly supplies patients with a vast range of flowers, oils, tinctures and capsules.
Shay explains the meaning behind the name, “Seach is from one side, a bush; from the other side, it means a conversation with God.” An appropriate and beautiful appellation for this producer of heavenly, healing herbs.
As we talk, Shay presents me with a gorgeous copy of The Book of Strains, which lists all the strains on offer. He discusses his strains in abundant detail—their history, medicinal qualities and even the detailed, meaningful stories behind their names.
In DOPE’s next article on Israel, I will be discussing Seach’s extensive research and their many innovations in more detail. Of all the medical cannabis providers I met, they undoubtedly were among the most visionary and most creative.
So What Do Israeli Medical Cannabis Patients Think?
Although my time in Israel is brief, I’ve set aside an hour to talk with a patient named Sylvia Sheinbaum, who was born in Poland and moved to Israel in 1983. She was among the first patients to receive legal medicinal cannabis, and has been a cannabis worker and activist for over eight years.
Sylvia is proud of the system she helped to build, but is still campaigning to iron out its flaws and change outdated views on cannabis still persisting within the Israeli establishment. She points out that the lack of understanding of cannabis’ potential has obstructed activists and providers from implementing their true vision.
One major flaw she mentions, is that cannabis may only be prescribed for a limited range of conditions. Sylvia suffers from COPD and finds that cannabis helps immensely, but her condition is not approved. So she shared her life story with a psychiatrist and he concluded that she also suffered from PTSD, a condition on the approved list for receiving cannabis—a very bittersweet case of a cloud with a silver lining.
As well as this, patients are required by law to consume their medicine at home—which often means that ill people are isolated at home with little support. Israeli law does not support the establishment of social clubs or coffee shops, so Sylvia is busy campaigning to change that, and to set up a safe space for patients to obtain and use their medicine in a supportive environment. As Sylvia says, “I’m not taking the program and changing it, I’m just adding to it.”
Israel’s medicinal cannabis scene is unique, progressive and very well-developed in global terms—although there is plenty of evolution that has yet to occur if the system is to become ideal. But the Israeli industry is not shy of stepping up to the challenge and is continually evolving. In our next article, we will tell you all about it in an exclusive special on research and innovation in the Israeli cannabis scene.
Also published on Medium.