Medical cannabis use has surged in the Czech Republic since public health insurance started covering 90% of the cost last month.

Data from the Czech State Agency for Medical Cannabis (SAKL) shows that Czechs were prescribed 3 kg of marijuana during January. That compared to just 17 kg being prescribed throughout the whole of 2019.

It coincides with a new framework that sees public health insurance foot 90% of the bill for patients, allowing them to receive cannabis without breaking the bank.

The Czech Republic legalized medical cannabis in 2013 and patients started receiving it two years later. In the first full year, just 2.6 kg was issued to a mere 130 patients.

That dropped to 1.3 kg in 2017 and then increased to 4.8 kg in 2018, when they patient count increased to 447. It rose again to 17 kg last year, according to the agency’s statistics.

However, it is likely to grow exponentially in 2020 after patients received 3 kg in the first month of the year.

In 2019, there were just 477 patients on the country’s medical marijuana program. Health Minister Adam Vojtech said the government was aware that medical marijuana was out of reach for many patients, so it decided to offer financial aid to them.

The Czech Republic has a population of around 11 million and tens of thousands of patients stand to benefit from medical cannabis.

Chronic pain due to cancer, glaucoma, degenerative or systemic diseases, spasticity due to multiple sclerosis, spinal or brain injury, Parkinson’s disease or neurological disorder, nausea due to HIV or cancer, Tourette’s syndrome, dermatomyositis, psoriasis and mucosal lesions are all qualifying conditions in the central European nation.

Last month, 734 patients were signed up to the program, and they received a total of 3 kg between them. Now that the financial barrier to entry has been significantly reduced, many more should join the program, but the Czech Republic also faces a challenge in securing enough cannabis to meet demand.

SAKL has a contract with a Czech grower, but supply shortages have been an issue. The agency can also import marijuana to make up any shortfall.

There are now around 80 specialist doctors that can prescribe cannabis in the Czech Republic.

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