Medicinal cannabis plans "do not go far enough"

The Minister for Health yesterday confirmed he intends to legalise the use of cannabis in a limited number of medical situations

Updated 18:35

Campaigners have called for a widening of proposed legislation legalising cannabis for certain medical conditions.

The Minister for Health yesterday confirmed he intends to legalise the use of cannabis in a limited number of medical situations.

His announcement followed the release of a Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) report on the potential benefits of the drug to patients.

The government’s compassionate access programme will aim to make the drug available to help multiple sclerosis and epilepsy patients, as well as chemotherapy patients suffering nausea and vomiting.

The plans have received a broad welcome, however a number of campaigners have called for the access programme to be expanded to include other conditions - especially chronic pain.

Medicinal cannabis symposium poster. Image: Aisling Roche / Newstalk

People Before Profit TD, Gino Kenny said the proposed trial doesn't go far enough:

“I welcome the report, but generally it had excluded many people who could have benefitted from medicinal cannabis such as people with chronic pain - that excludes a lot of people,” he said.

Deputy Kenny said the medicinal cannabis campaign has taken great strides in a short period of time.

"If you said to yourself six months ago that we would be where we are now, people would have been laughing at you," he said.

"It is quite extraordinary the leaps that we have come from six months ago.

"We still have a long way to go but medicinal cannabis now is recognised as a medicine in Ireland."

Medicinal cannabis symposium

Deputy Kenny was speaking at a symposium in Dublin to discuss an alternative Cannabis Bill which calls for safe access to high quality medicines without fear of criminalisation.

Tom Curran, a delegate at the event, said his late wife Marie had suffered with Multiple Sclerosis for many years - with medicinal cannabis making a huge difference to her quality of life:

"When we started using it first we weren't that much aware of the pain relief side of it," he said.

"That came by accident, even though afterwards having studied it, I realised that lots of other people were using it for pain as well.

"It was mainly for the spasms; and to witness an MS spasm - it is quite horrific, it really is frightening and it brings on a phenomenal amount of physical pain as well."

Medical discrimination

Deputy Kenny said the exclusion of other conditions from the compassionate access programme could “equate to medical discrimination.”

“Our bill wants to broaden it out and set up a cannabis research institute and a cannabis regulation authority - and obviously broaden the bigger debate around cannabis in Ireland,” he said.

National University of Ireland Professor David Finn backed the calls for the programme to include sufferers of chronic pain.

“I would be inclined to broaden it to chronic pain and I would overall be in favour of a legislation that would allow for the use of medicinal cannabis for those conditions - but with regulation, done carefully in a controlled manner and monitored,” he said.

The conditions specified within the HPRA report are:

  • Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis
  • Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy
  • Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy

Following publication of the report, Professor Tony O'Brien, chairman of the HPRA's expert working group, suggested: "the use of cannabis products would be initiated under expert medical supervision on a trial basis."

The new medical cannabis scheme is set to run for five years and will be constantly monitored by health service experts.