Mr. Ludek has lost none of his vigor, even after a serious accident which left him confined to a wheelchair. He is an experienced medical user who tirelessly raises awareness about cannabis in his community and fights for his rights. His story also reveals how progressive some European countries are in their healthcare concerning medical cannabis: in the Czech Republic, health insurance companies are required by law to cover 90% of the pharmacy retail price.
The international cannabis trade show Cannafest Prague has just finished, how did you enjoy this year?
It was great… again! In 2018 I returned from the United States, where I lived for many years. The same year I visited Cannafest and really enjoyed the fair.
What brought you back home after ten years?
My brother and sister died, and my mother was very ill. It was difficult, being overseas, so distant from her. I was terribly depressed and couldn’t handle it anymore. If it weren’t for CBD, I probably would have ended up on pills. I tried to manage the depression somehow, but in the end my friends had to help me fly back home. I just didn’t have the strength on my own. Eventually I came back and got my life sorted out. Then I had the accident.
What happened to you?
Freak accident. I fell out a window while on the phone. My phone slipped and I tried to catch it…. I don’t remember the fall itself at all, just some bits after in the helicopter. The day before, I had smoked CBD cannabis. When the police investigated, they took blood and found low levels of THC. I was lying in hospitals for six months, attached to tubes, staring at the ceiling. They cut off my leg, and I was afraid that they would cut the other one off, too.
I think there should be posters in all hospital waiting rooms with a big cannabis leaf and a recommendation for people to ask their doctor.
Finally, they fixed my pelvis. Unfortunately, my medical records stated that THC was found in my blood, along with the statement “he fell from the window”. Before the whole thing was investigated, the nurses treated me so harshly I actually wanted to commit suicide. They left me there unattended for hours, and so on. Once when I was helpless I told my nurse my diaper needed changing, and she said, “You should have thought of that before you jumped out a window, bonehead.” I complained to the head nurse, but she didn’t give a damn.
How did this end?
When the police finally investigated everything and confirmed it was not a suicide attempt, the nurses changed their attitude completely. In the end, however, the problem became administrative, because the medical examiner wrote in my papers that I was under the influence of illegal substances. So whenever I dealt with authorities, it was a problem, they also treated me badly. For example, I needed to make modifications to my car so that I could drive it. It is usually possible to request support for that, but due to what was written in my file, I was rejected. In the end, I had to hire a lawyer, and it took a formal complaint, American-style, and voila! my medical records were corrected.
You didn’t have a problem getting a prescription for medical cannabis?
Fortunately, there were also reasonable people in the healthcare sector. I searched on the Internet about what one has to go through to get cannabis via prescription. After being released from the hospital, I told my regular doctor about treatment options at the local Pain Center. She knew I hadn’t jumped and wasn’t suicidal, so she agreed to give me a recommendation in order to see a specialist. He checked all my data and hospital records, and then decided what kind of cannabis was right for me. At first, I got a strain with a THC to CBD ratio of 1:1 and was told that if it wasn’t strong enough, they could increase the THC content next time.
I have to say that the neurologist is absolutely excellent. Whenever I call him, he or his nurse always do their utmost to meet my needs. Plus – and this is very important – there is smooth communication with the pharmacist from the local hospital pharmacy. She always tells me what strains they have in stock and which one will be suitable for me. She knows I need a sativa during the day, but then I need to sleep well at night, so she always makes a special selection for me.
In the Czech Republic, health insurance companies cover 90% of up to thirty grams (approx. 1 oz.) of medical cannabis per month. But you need higher doses. How much does this treatment cost you per month?
During the first year I got my thirty grams every month and paid my ten percent, so it turned out to be less than $25 monthly. But it wasn’t enough, I often had to resort to self-medication. Eventually, I registered with the KOPAC cannabis patient association, where I was discouraged from self-treatment because I had no control over what I was taking.
On their recommendation, I talked to my doctor, and he wrote a request to my insurance company, which agreed, and began to cover one hundred grams per month. Those hundred grams usually cost me about $75. Unfortunately, the doctor has to resend the special request every month.
What is the procedure for ordering and picking up cannabis for a prescription?
In my case, I call the pharmacy, where they tell me what the options are now and give me the strain codes for the doctor. He enters them into an electronic prescription and sends it to me.
There’s no need for a medical examination?
Not in my case: he didn’t need to see me in person, because he had the records of extensive trauma. Everything was done online. Since I’m in a wheelchair, the online procedure is absolutely great, I appreciate it. In my case the online consultations are just fine; plus it’s cheaper and more efficient for everyone involved.
How do you use cannabis?
I like to vaporize, but now I only have an old vaporizer a friend gave me. I asked my doctor if I was entitled to a vaporizer as a medical aid. We applied for the purchase of a table vaporizer, but the health insurance company rejected the request. For now, the KOPAC patient association offered help: they will loan me a good table vaporizer for three months for free – as soon as one is available.
Do you still travel a lot? How do you handle your medication on your travels?
I have found out that my destinations must be countries which allow their citizens to use medical cannabis. In other words, I cannot visit countries without legalized medical cannabis. Fortunately, most of Europe is okay. I called the airport and was advised to always carry a certificate in English signed by my doctor.
How does cannabis treatment help you?
All in all, it alleviates the pain. It also helps with my phantom limb pain. I tend to have this pain, but not as intensely as some other patients I know. I think cannabis could help a lot of people with phantom limb pains.
How do you evaluate the quality of medical cannabis?
Cannabis from the pharmacy is perfect. In the morning, I smoke sativa with a high THC content and a low CBD content. Then I feel like getting out of my chair and running up to the nearby castle on a hill. Unfortunately, that is not possible!
In addition to online consultations, for elderly people and others I think a call center could help.
However, it instantly gives me a lot of energy. It also helps me in my sex life. I am 55 years old, and everything works just fine. I’m happy. I talked about it openly with the neurologist because my pelvic bone was destroyed and I was afraid I would never have an erection again, but everything is good.
Are medical cannabis patients in the Czech Republic happy with the system of treatment? Do you think anything should improve?
I still meet people who condemn marijuana as a dangerous drug. They don’t know anything about it, and they don’t even care that there are official patients with prescription cannabis. We have an ancient notice board at the entrance to our apartment building, and someone put up a note that whoever smells marijuana in the premises should call the police. On the contrary! I think there should be posters in all hospital waiting rooms with a big cannabis leaf and a recommendation for people to ask their doctor.
People need to ask their doctors for more information. The system works, medical cannabis is covered by health insurance, but most people have no idea. In the United States, there’s a lot more awareness about medical cannabis, and we should take up on that example in our country. All kinds of information is available to patients on the Internet, but one needs to be active, interested. The problem is that people – especially elderly people – need better, simpler access to medical cannabis. In addition to online consultations, for elderly people and others I think a call center could help.
Text Filip Ostrowski
Cannabis Therapy Magazine – online magazine for cannabis patients and experts alike.