Medicinal cannabis may be used to treat MS sufferers

Multiple sclerosis sufferers could soon be treated with medicinal cannabis, the Health Department has signalled.

While the Government stressed there would be no relaxation in the general cannabis laws, MS patients will be able to access specially authorised drugs from later in the year under the proposals.

A product containing cannabis, which has been approved for use in other EU states for the “relief of symptoms of spasticity in people with multiple sclerosis”, is likely to be approved.

A consultation process this month is expected to lead to the authorisation of the drug — but only under strict conditions.

“It should be noted that it is not the intention of Government to legalise the use of cannabis. The proposed exemption, which is the subject of the current consultation, applies only to authorised medicinal products containing cannabis extract — ie where the medicinal product is presented and authorised as a medicine. It is not proposed to amend the legislation to permit the use of cannabis plant or other forms of cannabis for medicinal purposes,” a spokesman for the Department of Health said.

MS support groups have long campaigned for a change in attitude towards cannabis-based medicines by health authorities in Ireland.

The Department of Health said a wide-ranging consultation process was now under way.

“Following engagement with experts in the field and having regard to the regulatory approaches adopted in other countries, the department has examined how authorised cannabis-based medicinal products for patients suffering from multiple sclerosis may be legally prescribed by medical practitioners and used by patients for the treatment of MS in Ireland.

“During August 2013, the department is undertaking a consultation process regarding possible changes to the Misuse of Drugs regulations to introduce a limited exemption to the existing prohibitions on cannabis which will permit medicines containing cannabis extract to be prescribed by medical practitioners, supplied by pharmacists and used by patients in Ireland,” the spokesman said.

The law is also expected to be amended to make it an offence to deal in prescribed tranquilliser drugs.

Stricter rules look set to apply to the possession of benzodiazepines and z drugs, known as “benzos”.

Concern has been raised over the levels of dealing in such drugs, often obtained from the internet.

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