Last Friday saw the release of a much awaited scientific review into medical cannabis authored by the Irish Health Products Regulatory Authority.
Commissioned by the Irish Health Minister Simon Harris, the report’s findings form the basis of how the regulation of medical cannabis will be introduced in Ireland.
MS, cancer patients going through chemo and epilepsy: in – chronic pain: out
Despite stating a lack of scientific evidence proving beyond doubt the efficacy of medical use of the cannabis plant, the report has approved its use for a limited number of health conditions.
Namely, the “spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis resistant to all standard therapies and interventions 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 and severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy that has failed to respond to standard anticonvulsant medications whilst under expert medical supervision.”
A notable omission from the qualifying conditions is chronic pain, which according to the HPRA is due to “the complexity and variety of chronic pain syndromes.” It also suggests that there are already sufficient treatment options in existence and that the vast number of chronic pain sufferers potentially using medical cannabis would raise “concerns about misuse and diversion into the wider community.”
County Wicklow resident and chronic pain sufferer Jo Allen begs to differ. “I am thoroughly disgusted by the overt exclusion of chronic pain from the list of approved conditions,” she says. “Of course I am delighted for those people that this report will help. However, as an individual who battles daily with chronic pain I feel entirely let down and extremely angry.”
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Putting recommendations into practice
Now comes the difficult task of how to implement the recommendations. The report suggests a 5 year pilot programme permitting patients with the qualifying conditions to be legally treated with medical cannabis within the national health service.
However, it does stipulate that access only be made “where a patient is under the care of a medical consultant with expertise in the relevant medical condition, who will be responsible for monitoring the patient, and for follow-up; and in a situation where there is a defined medical condition with an unmet medical need, where prior treatments are ineffective or unsuitable and where scientific data suggests cannabis may be effective.”
Only authorised medical cannabis medications will be prescribed, although the report does differentiate between preparations containing THC and the non-psychoactive cannabinoid Cannabidiol (CBD), with the latter continuing to be available as a nutritional supplement as it is not considered a controlled drug.
Mother of epileptic child is happy with findings
Prominent Irish medical cannabis campaigner Vera Twomey, mother to 7 year old Ava, who before taking CBD oil was having seizures many times a day says:
“We are happy to see the release of the HPRA report and welcome this progress. We hope that the TDS (the Members of Irish Parliament) can now work together to implement the necessary legislative change and make efforts to allow other patients with Parkinson’s, autism, cancer and arthritis/chronic pain the opportunity to access medicinal cannabis to treat their illness and reduce their pain or symptoms.
“Medical cannabis has set our daughter free and has allowed her to lead a new and freer life. She improves daily and with seizure reduction of over 90%. I believe every person has a right to the option of medical cannabis in their lives.”
Health Minister Harris appears pleased with the reports findings. “I believe this report marks a significant milestone in developing policy in this area,” he says. “This is something I am eager to progress but I am also obligated to proceed on the basis of the best clinical advice.”
Video featuring prominent Irish pro medical cannabis campaigners including Vera Twomey, mother of Dravet Syndrome sufferer 7 year old Ava.