While marijuana is increasingly recognized for its medicinal and therapeutic effects, prescribing the drug—”take two hits and call me in the morning”—has long been a tricky proposition for doctors.
Perhaps until now. Syqe Medical—a startup out of Tel-Aviv, Israel—has created a cannabis inhaler that allows doctors to prescribe a precise dose of marijuana and even administer it remotely. The inhaler was green-lighted by the Israel Health Ministry, and has been in use for a year at Rambam hospital in Haifa, which the Times of Israel describes as the world’s first such institution to prescribe weed as “standard medical treatment.”
“For doctors, the inhaler solves the problem of prescribing plants for smoking, and offers a solution for patients in that, for the first time, they will be able to receive a precise dose of medical cannabis,” said Syqe Medical chairman Eytan Hyam.
Made with 3D-printing technology, the inhaler comes in two variations—one for individuals and for medical institutions. The hospital version includes a care-giver interface and allows for remote dosing; it was created for use in pain clinics, cancer centers, intensive care units, and other medical institutions.
The pocket-size gadgets come pre-loaded with 100-microgram cannabis cartridges, plus thermal and flow controllers, lung interfacing, and wireless connectivity to a clinical database that serves physicians, researchers and health care entities. The marijuana is structurally modified—i.e. the plant with no chemical alteration, rather than a highly processed weed concentrate.
Last month, Syqe took the first step toward making its inhalers available nationwide, striking an exclusive marketing and distribution deal with Teva Pharmaceuticals—formed in Israel and now considered the world’s largest generic drug maker. The health ministry has approved the cannabis inhalers for widespread use with medical marijuana patients in 2017, Teva and Syqe said in a statement about the deal.
The development has obvious health benefits for Israel’s 26,000 medical-marijuana users: They won’t have to ingest carcinogens by smoking their medicine (which 90% currently do) and the inhalers have the added benefit of discretion. Teva and Syqe expect Israel’s medical-marijuana licenses to double by 2018.
But the device will also provide scientists and researchers with a way to track and control dosage, which is crucial to studying weed-as-treatment. “The extent of medical cannabis use for the treatment of pain and other symptoms has increased significantly in recent years,” says Elon Eisenberg, director of the Pain Research Department at Rambam Medical Center. “The development of this inhaler fulfills our greatest hopes, to be able to administer accurate and reliable doses of cannabis….[It’s] a breakthrough in cannabis treatment and the medical use of cannabis in Israel and around the world.”