New lobby group wants greater access to medicinal cannabis

New lobby group wants greater access to medicinal cannabis

Campaigner Tom Curran says cannabis was hugely important for his late wife Marie, easing pain, controlling spasms and getting her off heavy medications.Picture: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

A new group is being launched this week to lobby the Government for greater access to medical cannabis.

The Irish Medicinal Cannabis Council will be formed by Tom Curran - who helped his late wife Marie Fleming access cannabis to ease her pain before her death - Gino Kenny TD, Cork medical cannabis campaigners Alicia Maher and Vera Twomey, medic Dr Garrett McGovern and writer Clare McAfee.

The group aims to be the focal point for information on medicinal cannabis in Ireland. 

Mr Curran said that although thousands of people benefit from the medicinal use of cannabis, most have to do so illegally.  

Although a ministerial licence to access medical cannabis can be granted through the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP), it is limited.

Mr Curran said:

They already give a licence for it when they see fit so they do recognise cannabis as a medicine.

Cannabis was hugely important for his late wife Marie, easing pain, controlling spasms and getting her off heavy medications, he said.

But because it was illegal, they had to initially buy it off the street.

"That’s very worrying because you don’t know what you’re buying. So we started growing it," Mr Curran said.

"But its effects were remarkable.

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“Before, Marie was on the maximum amount of analgesic pain killers and anti-spasm medication. It left her comatose. She had to have her liver tested every month because of all the medications.

“But with cannabis, she was able to come off both her pain medication and her anti-spasm medication.

“I want everyone to be able to benefit like that."

He said Ireland now has an opportunity to become a world-leading producer of affordable, medical-grade cannabis.

And loosening the legal restrictions would only take an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act, he said.

Alicia Maher, who is writing her law PhD on the regulation of medicinal cannabis in Ireland, had to move to Spain to safely access her medication last November.

Ms Maher, originally from Cork, has suffered chronic pain following multiple surgeries and complications which began when she had her tonsils removed aged 17.

Now 37, she has had many surgeries, her large intestine and rectum removed and was on more than 30 tablets a day, many of them heavy painkillers she said drained her and left her with no quality of life.

But after sourcing a cannabis vape on the black market in 2018, she said her life changed dramatically for the better. 

I came off all my medication and I haven’t had a procedure in hospital since I started cannabis. 

"It’s so much gentler than pain killers and you don’t have the side effects. I’m not sleepy, I can function again. My life has gone back to normal since coming off the medication."

Although Ms Maher's licence to access medical cannabis was granted by the Minister for Health in May, due to the pandemic and the cost of the medicine at home, she has stayed in Spain.

Ms Maher has a prescription for cannabis to treat chronic pain but only three conditions – MS, epilepsy and nausea from chemotherapy – are currently refunded by the State. 

I’d like to see Government refund medical card patients for cannabis, just like they refund all their other medications.

"I have a medical card – when I was taking 30 tablets a day which cost €900 a month they were happy to pay for it and for all my surgery every three months. But since my prescription changed to cannabis they won’t cover it. When I come home, I'll have to pay €2,000 every three months which I just can’t afford.

"There’s a lack of engagement with Government on the issue. But we hope that the council can be a dedicated force to push for change."

Aims of the Irish Medicinal Cannabis Council 

  • Activate the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) immediately to ensure that anyone currently prescribed      under a Ministerial Licence continues to receive their medicine without interruption 
  • Ensure prescriptions for medicinal cannabis are funded in the same way as other medicines without charge for those with a Medical Card or on the Long Term Illness Scheme 
  • Maintain the collection of prescribed medicinal cannabis from the Netherlands where it is not available locally 
  • Expand the conditions covered under MCAP, most urgently for chronic pain 
  • Expand the products available under MCAP, including raw flower for vaporising 
  • Establish regular, formal consultation between the Department of Health, the HSE and IMCC 
  • Amend current legislation to permit trace amounts of THC in over-the-counter CBD products 
  • Set a deadline for the HPRA to establish a licensing system for the cultivation of medicinal cannabis and production of medicinal products 
  • Establish a training programme for doctors in the endocannabinoid system and prescribing of medicinal cannabis
  • The council is inviting anyone with an interest in the subject to join as a contributing member or as a supporter.

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