The Roots of Eastern Europe’s Medical Cannabis Revolution

Published on December 30, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020

Over the past six years, Eastern European countries have seen an unprecedented rise in the number of patients treating themselves with homemade cannabis extracts. The healing potential of THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids also led to the formation of several Eastern Europe-based patients movements demanding medical cannabis be legalized. What explains the development of such strong advocacy in this region, the likes of which are rarely seen in other European countries?

One explanation is Jindřich Bayer, one of Europe’s most important (yet least visible) cannabis activists. At first a translator specializing in drug policy issues, in 2005, Bayer helped establish the first companies in Central Europe to supply cosmetic products containing hemp extracts. Four years later, in 2009, he invited Canadian activist Rick Simpson and world-renowned Czech cannabis researcher Lumír Hanuš—who isolated anandamide, the first known endocannabinoid, in a lab—to tour the Czech Republic in order to spread the word about cannabis as medicine.

A month after the tour, Bayer attended the High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. At the event, Rick Simpson received the Freedom Fighter of Year award. Seeds of Eastern Europe’s cannabis revolution were already being sown.

While in Amsterdam, Simpson received word from his son in Canada that his house had been raided yet again by the police. Bayer offered him asylum in the Czech Republic. The two began advising and coaching patients on how to produce and use so-called Rick Simpson Oil, a extract that’s easy for patients to make at home. Despite impressive success with patients, RSO, as it’s now called, failed to win over many Czech health professionals or politicians.

Czechia eventually legalized medical cannabis in 2013. And while the pair’s activism certainly contributed to the change, legalization turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory. The medicinal cannabis law has never really worked in practice: Only a handful of patients and prescribing doctors are registered in the program, even three years after its adoption.

Bayer and Simpson didn’t limit their activities to the Czech Republic, Bayer told Leafly: “We were very disappointed with the lack of interest of Czech authorities in what cannabis extracts can really do, and decided to give it a try in other countries.” Between 2012 and 2014, they spread the word in Costa Rica, Honduras, Spain, and especially the Balkan countries, such as Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, and Macedonia.

The result of their endeavors is impressive. More than a million hemp cosmetics containers have been sold so far by the companies Bayer helped get to market. Tens of thousands of patients have experienced the therapeutic effects of cannabis extracts firsthand and have started to pressure their governments for reform. The efforts have led to medical cannabis legalization in some form or other in a number of Eastern European countries during recent years, and others are in the midst of heated debate. That speed of change hasn’t been seen in the rest of Europe, where attitudes of the public and the authorities towards cannabis as medicine are changing much slower.

Bayer summed up his experience with using cannabis extract to fight cancer and other diseases in a free e-book, titled Cure for Cancer: The Rick Simpson Protocol (available online here). He’s in the process of arranging for translation into as many languages as possible. English, Spanish, and Vietnamese versions are currently available, Bayer said. “German and Turkish translations should be out soon, too.”

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Lukas Hurt
Lukas Hurt
Lukas Hurt is Leafly’s central and eastern Europe correspondent. Originally from a small town outside Prague, he studied history and English at university. After a stint as a bartender in Ireland, he returned to his home country in 2010, where he now works as a translator, journalist, and editor focusing on cannabis issues. He has advocated for patients and recreational consumers, publishing articles and translating books and scientific studies. He is one of the main contributors to the highly popular Czech cannabis magazine Legalizace.
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