If you are reading this from the United States, the UK, or Canada and you are interested in cannabis as medicine from Israel (because you have read so much about what we are doing over here –– Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, for instance) and then all the advances at Hebrew University, Haifa, The Technion, Tel Aviv University… you probably think that Israel is either a paradise for people who need cannabis as medicine or that people are smoking up freely as they like.
If you think so, you are both right and also absolutely wrong. I want to give you a few things to think about that I have learned over the years working with scientists and patients who use cannabis as medicine.
On one hand cannabis is credited as the secret sauce to Israeli startups. That’s what my co-founder partner told me when I asked him the question. We were building a robot to help people grow food with less water, and also help cannabis growers grow better hybrids. And, he had to sign a paper in the army that he would not cannabis while in the army or ever again in the future. State secrets, you know.
When I first moved here 20 years ago, it seemed like every other person in their 20s was smoking regularly. According to some estimates that about makes sense. Not because Israelis are party animals or that they like to check out of life and get stoned. About half of the country is suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) –– an after effect of going to the army, numerous wars, the challenge of life under conflict. They use cannabis (then it was illegally) not because they are stoneheads, but because they are self-medicating. Or looking for the secret sauce while programming.
I learned that from a scientist I met from the Technion. Until then I felt I could be judgemental about people who seemed to be using cannabis for fun. Not the case he told me. People are finding ways to treat themselves and it’s more common than you think, he explained. So when I remember my lawyer boyfriend back then, still going on his month-long army duty every year, and the things he passed at work and in life. Definitely. He was self-medicating. Life is very stressful here.
Israeli patients desperate for alternatives that give them pain relief from arthritis pretty much have to humiliate themselves to a pile of lies, tests and treatments before they get cannabis as medicine –- unlike in Canada where even before it was only medically legal or in the grey area –- you could Skype call with a doctor from a clinic and get pretty much anything you wanted if you had the right condition – cancer, pain, that sort of thing.
People in Israel who are desperate for relief have to first wander through a maze of finding a doctor. Dr. Bareket Schiff is one of the best in the field, but she is sometimes derided because she cries from the experiences that her patients have to go through to get cannabis. She is outspoken and vocal.
So if you do manage to pass the year long exam with a physician who will put you on a course of excessive and potentially addictive painkillers (the smart ones get the prescription filled and then scatter it out over dumpsters in the city) –- then report back saying they don’t work. Who wants to get addicted to painkillers?
The ones with patience and the time to kill eventually may get the prescription but then find that there is no cannabis available and/or they have to stand in long lines to get it, and then it costs a fortune. Don’t blame the growers though. Blame the government for not allowing enough patients in the system. The growers aren’t making money. Those like Tikkun Olam and Breath of Life make their money in other ways. In joint ventures and IP they sell outside of Israel.
So what’s a person to do in Israel who needs cannabis? Go through the rigamarole I mentioned above with painkillers and a doctor you may never find nor be able to access because they are overbooked. Wait maybe a year to get your first appointment. Or find a dealer. That’s where Telegrass came in handy. I never used it but I thought about it. Someone I loved was in an extreme amount of pain for a chronic condition and the little bit of cannabis I could get her helped. She started the process with Bareket Schiff and then in the end decided not to play the charade.
She has open eyes and is smart, like a stealthy Israeli. You have to be over here or someone will take your place in line, pull the rug out from under you, or hit you with a bill you don’t deserve. Or worse change the law. What happens if you are in the system in Israel registered as a medical cannabis patient and you get in a car accident? Or if you are looking for a job in a special high security position?
This information will be accessible by someone now or in the future. For those that use cannabis they know that there is a waiting period where it can take some time and it will be out of your system –– there are companies in the US that do this. They can send you a home kit and you can test yourself to know when you are in the clear. Because what I have learned over the last 5 or 6 years building companies in cannabis and then consulting for others –– you never know which way the wind will blow.
I hope that Israel does blow its own smoke or vape or oil … in the same direction as Canada. That it gives up on holding onto antiquated laws. Those that are able will self-medicate, and those that are really not able will suffer deeply in pain and agony or maybe die from a drug overdose when the opiates stop working. Go the way of Canada, Israel. To the direction where even those in the military can now smoke cannabis freely, without free of criminalization, without fear of losing everything.
Cannabis can teach us a lot. Even if you just smoke it once or a few times. Or maybe you will try products high in CBD (like CBD oil) and low in THC help you with inflammation, anxiety? For me, I was high when I decided to move to Israel.
Deep in the middle of nowhere in Switzerland, with the donkeys and the green mountains… I knew I needed to change something in my life. I was how do you say it, completely stuck.
A few puffs later from my Canadian friend and I was meandering home back to my village. I was processing how to be unstuck, how to deal with what needed to be fixed. I’d visited Israel once, I’d loved it. But could I move there with no VISA, or job? Sure you can, cannabis whispered in my ear.
Cannabis showed me my courage. And over the years it has brought me to tears meeting people like Dr. Alan Shackleford who saved a little girl’s life, with cannabis.