Cannabis-based treatment could be cleared for MS patients

Cannabis-based medicinal products, such as Sativex, could soon be available to people with multiple sclerosis and other medical conditions on prescription.

Róisín Shortall, minister for state at the Department of Health, said the department was “examining the issues associated with applying controls, similar to those that apply to other controlled drugs that can be misused, such as morphine and methadone, to cannabis-based medicinal products to permit them to be prescribed and dispensed in Ireland”.

In a written response to a Dáil question tabled by Luke “Ming” Flanagan (Ind), Ms Shorthall said: “As the law currently stands, it is not possible for cannabis-based medicinal products such as Sativex to be prescribed by a medical practitioner in Ireland.

“I am aware that claims have been made in respect of the possible health benefits of cannabis-based medicinal products for patients suffering from certain conditions, such as MS. I am also aware that Sativex is authorised in the UK for the relief of spasm in patients with multiple sclerosis.”

Mr Flanagan described the policy of prohibiting the supply of cannabis-based medicinal products as “heartless and cruel”.

Sativex has been approved for relieving muscle spasms associated with MS in eight European countries, as well as Canada and New Zealand.

Mr Flanagan said Ms Shorthall’s response gave “room for hope” to sufferers of conditions such as MS who seek pain relief from Sativex.

“I have had a number of heart-wrenching letters from patients who cannot get Sativex in the Republic.

“People are out there in pain and depressed because they cannot get access to these drugs.

“I received a letter from one person who purchased Sativex in the North. The Sativex dealt with the person’s incontinence and the patient didn’t have to use a nappy while on the medication, but is now back wearing a nappy because this person can’t buy Sativex in the Republic.

“Patients like this person are going [through] unnecessary degradation because of a very, very successful witch-hunt against a plant called cannabis.”

Mr Flanagan admitted he still smoked cannabis on a recreational basis, but went abroad to do so in countries where it had been legalised.

UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals, which produces Sativex, recorded a 59% rise in Sativex sales last year from £2.8m (€3.35m) to £4.4m.

Chairman of the Irish Patients’ Association, Stephen McMahon, last night welcomed the minister’s statement.

He said: “If the evidence is there that drugs like Sativex can provide a better quality of life to sufferers of MS, then it should be available to patients.”

Mr McMahon said he hoped the department’s study could be completed as speedily as possible.

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