The Department of Health approved a three-month licence for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for the treatment of severe chronic pain.
It is the second time such a licence has been granted after Cork boy Tristan Forde, 3, who has a severe form of epilepsy, became the first person in Ireland legally allowed to use cannabis for medicinal purposes, last year.
The development has been described by medical professionals and campaigners as hugely significant, as about 20% of the population has chronic pain.
At the moment, it is illegal to use medicinal cannabis for medical reasons but a patient’s consultant can apply to the minister for health for a licence on a case-by-case basis.
Yesterday, Chronic Pain Ireland announced the licence for THC for chronic pain had been granted as it played a major role in applying for the licence.
“It is the first time that the Department of Health has recognised that THC can be used for the treatment of chronic pain,” said William McLoughlin, national secretary of Chronic Pain Ireland.
There was a three-week turnaround from the time of application to a licence being granted.
Last February, Health Minister Simon Harris announced that he would implement a Health Products Regulatory Authority recommendation that cannabis-based products be made available to some patients with multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, and those suffering nausea in chemotherapy.
However, chronic pain was not included in Mr Harris’ plan. It was on this basis that Chronic Pain Ireland applied to the minister for a licence, for one of their members, along with their medical consultant.
There were no formal application guidelines from the Department of Health, so Mr McLoughlin created one from scratch. This is now available on Chronic Pain Ireland’s website.
The application included how THC would be administered, details of the patient’s medical consultant, and what dosage they would potentially start on.
The patient can take the medicinal cannabis either through tea or by vaping.
“Some people are desperate due to chronic pain,” said Mr McLoughlin. “I personally know of people who use cannabis for chronic pain. Some say it works, some say it doesn’t. But you must always go to your doctor.”
Professor of pharmacology and therapeutics David Finn, who is also the co-director of the Centre for Pain Research at NUI Galway, said the granting of the licence was an “important development”.
“This is a very interesting and important development which demonstrates a recognition by Irish medical professionals and the minister for health of the potential therapeutic value of medicinal cannabis for the treatment of chronic pain,” said Prof Finn.
“Chronic pain is the most researched indication for cannabinoids, and the majority of clinical studies, meta-analyses and systematic reviews conclude that cannabis or cannabinoids can be effective in alleviating certain types of chronic pain.
“Approximately 20% of the Irish population suffers from chronic pain, and up to 40% of patients report that the management of their pain is inadequate, either due to the limited efficacy of existing treatments or unacceptably high levels of side-effects.”
Solidarity-People Before Profit Alliance TD Gino Kelly has been a longtime campaigner for legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes and brought forward an opposition bill towards this end.
The Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016, is now entering its third stage of debate and will go before the Oireachtas health committee early next year.
“The tide has now turned. It is a significant day for people with chronic pain in Ireland,” said Mr Kelly.