Patients to be given access to cannabis

Patients suffering from a number of medical conditions are to be given access to cannabis treatments “where they have not responded to other treatments and there is some evidence that cannabis may be effective”, writes Stephen Rogers.

Health Minister Simon Harris has confirmed the move ahead of the publication of a report given to him by the State’s medicine’s watchdog the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

“Cannabis for Medical Use — a Scientific review” which was compiled by the HPRA following advice from an expert working group which it had convened, found that scientific evidence supporting the safe and effective use of cannabis products for medical treatment was “insufficient and at times conflicting”.

The report makes eight recommendations, one of which says that, if a policy decision is made to facilitate access to cannabis for medical use, there should be a five-year pilot programme that permits patients with defined medical conditions “to be treated with cannabis or cannabinoids prescribed by their doctors”.

Therefore the reports says that if a policy decision on access to cannabis for medicinal use is to be made, it advises that this must be controlled and confined to the treatment of specified medical conditions. The HPRA suggests this would be a “significant first step that recognises patient need, whilst providing patient protection through medical consultant oversight”.

The conditions it recommends for use are:

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

Professor Tony O’Brien, chairman of the expert working group said, based on available evidence the group was pleased to cautiously advise for the restricted use of cannabis products for the limited number of conditions.

“With regard to the specified medical conditions, the use of cannabis products would be initiated under expert medical supervision on a trial basis, in situations where patients have failed to respond satisfactorily to standard treatment regimes.”

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