South Korea saw just over 300 approved imports of cannabinoid-based medicines in the first few months of the country’s newly regulated medical cannabis program, a volume that underwhelmed local experts who expected demand to be much higher.
Almost all the medical cannabis prescriptions were for pure CBD oil.
Through July 19, exactly 300 prescriptions had been approved for a cannabidiol oral solution and the only other approval was for Sativex, which has both THC and CBD as active ingredients, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) told Marijuana Business Daily.
United Kingdom-based GW Pharma manufactures both the CBD solution and Sativex for the Korean market.
German pharma giant Bayer is the distributor for the latter in Korea.
Yong-hyun Kwon, the first doctor in Korea specializing in cannabinoids, said he expected more than 300 approvals in that time.
He said more doctor education would lead to more prescriptions and more imports.
Kwon is chairman of the Korean Cannabis Association.
Last November, South Korea approved the Amendment to the Narcotics Control Act to allow for the import of medical cannabis treatments have already been approved by health agencies in certain countries.
The law took effect in March.
A spokesperson for the MFDS said the ministry would consider allowing cannabis medicines beyond the four already approved for import.
He also said the ministry expects the number of approvals to rise steadily and that government authorities were prepared to process greater demand.
The health regulator so far identified Epidiolex, Marinol, Cesamet and Sativex to treat conditions such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis if there is no substitute medicine available.
The list of approved conditions and the requirement that cannabinoids only be prescribed as a last resort severely limits the market for now, because a small pool of doctors treat the patients who would qualify and most of those doctors are generally unaware of the potential health benefits.
All imports are facilitated through the Korea Orphan Drug Center, a government body established to facilitate patient access to certain medicines.
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