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By Miles Casey

  • A “milestone” report has recommend that medicinal cannabis should be made available to treat some patients
  • Patients with multiple sclerosis, severe epilepsy, or undergoing chemotherapy could be given cannabis despite some voicing safety fears

Simon Harris, Ireland’s Health Minister, has published the report announcing the programme for cannabis-based treatments. Ireland is now set to legalise the use of cannabis for treating specific medical conditions, following a report commissioned by the government said the drug could be given to some patients with certain illnesses. This is great news!

The Minister thanked the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and the members of the Expert Review Group for their work on this report which he described as a “milestone” in the development of policy on medicinal cannabis.

Harris exclaimed his support for the use of medical cannabis “where patients have not responded to other treatments and there is some evidence that cannabis may be effective”.

As we know the evidence for the effectiveness of cannabis for certain conditions is clear, but under current laws, patients in Ireland cannot be prescribed cannabis-based medicines (with the exception of Sativex, produced by GW Pharmaceuticals).

Last November, Harris asked the HPRA to examine the latest evidence on cannabis for medical use and how schemes to facilitate this operate in other countries.

The study found “an absence of scientific data demonstrating the effectiveness of cannabis products” and warned of “insufficient information on [the drug’s] safety during long-term use for the treatment of chronic medical conditions”.

Speaking on the significance of the report, Harris claimed: “This report marks a significant milestone in developing policy in this area.

“This is something I am eager to progress but I am also obligated to proceed on the basis of the best clinical advice.

He added: “The report notes that this is ultimately a societal and policy decision and I have decided to proceed with the advice of the HPRA and establish an access programme for cannabis-based treatments for certain conditions, where patients have not responded to other treatments and there is some evidence that cannabis may be effective.”

The HPRA report recommended that the policy should concern the treatment of patients with the following illnesses:

  • Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy that has failed to respond to standard anticonvulsant medications whilst under expert medical supervision.
  • Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, despite the use of standard anti-emetic regimes whilst under expert medical supervision.
  • Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis resistant to all standard therapies and interventions whilst under expert medical supervision.

The report also stated that patients seeking access to medicinal cannabis through the programme should be under the care of a medical consultant and medical information and utilisation data should be kept on a central register.

The report will now be referred to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Department of Health officials, and the HPRA will consult with stakeholders on how the access programme will operate. It has been deemed particularly important to engage with the clinical community in the development of a framework.

The Department of Health officials will continue to analyse the report and advise the Minister on legislative changes that may be necessary.

Get Involved

What are your thoughts on Ireland’s leap into medicinal legalisation? Are there too many restrictions on which diseases and illnesses qualify? Could the measure leave thousands of patients out in the cold due to their illness not being recognised as being able to be treated by the HPRA? What do you feel about patients having to consume their medicine in a guarded and monitored consumption room? Is this a step forward in the right direction for Ireland, and should other countries follow suit?

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