From today, some patients in Ireland will be able to access to medicinal cannabis through the health service. However, similarly to in the UK, the cannabis-based products will only be available for patients with a limited number of conditions.
The Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, announced funding for the programme which will see specialist clinicians able to prescribe medical cannabis for a handful of conditions. Patients may be prescribed cannabis-based medications for muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and severe forms of epilepsy.
The measures around access to the medicines echo those currently in place in the UK, where medical cannabis was legalised in 2018.
In a statement, Mr Donnelly stated: “One of the improvements in our Health Services that will benefit from this extra funding is the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme which has been added to the HSE Service Plan for 2021.
“The purpose of this Programme is to facilitate compassionate access to cannabis for medical reasons, where conventional treatment has failed.”
Governments in Europe are increasingly coming under pressure to expand medical cannabis programmes as the public adopts a more liberal attitude to the drug. However, most European countries are yet to establish a medical cannabis sector like those seen in Canada and some US states.
Ireland’s Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, continued:
“Ultimately it will be the decision of the medical consultant, in consultation with their patient, to prescribe a particular treatment, including a cannabis-based treatment, for a patient under their care.”
Ireland’s new medical cannabis programme is expected to be similar to that of the UK, where access to medicines through the NHS have been few and far between. Instead, many patients access their medicine through private cannabis clinics around the country.
Cannabis flower will remain prohibited for both medical and recreational purposes, with only licensed cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals being available through the medical cannabis programme.
Doctors are yet to adopt medical cannabis as a routine option, even for conditions approved by the government. This is often put down to a lack of clinical evidence demonstrating the efficacy of the products.