Medicinal Cannabis: Government Announces Update

Minister says legislation is at an ‘advanced stage’

It has taken a long time but yesterday Minister for State, Alex White suggested there would soon be a change in legislation to allow cannabis-based medicinal products in Ireland. The Minister launched the ‘Drug Use in Ireland and Northern Ireland: Cannabis Use’ report which contains a survey on the overall use of cannabis in the country. In an Irish Times article, Minister White stated that the government is at “quite an advanced stage in preparing regulations to allow for very limited availability of cannabis for medical purposes”.

Roughly 25% of people surveyed by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) said they have used cannabis in the course of their lifetime. With more information about the positive use of cannabis for the treatment of many conditions it seems Irish people are more tolerant of it being prescribed for such use. A majority of those surveyed (66%) believed ‘people should be permitted to take cannabis for medical reasons’ .

Cannabis is used by many people with MS to control symptoms of spasticity as well as some sleep disorders. In a study conducted in 2001 from the North American Research Consortium, 84% of people with MS experienced some level of spasticity. Spasticity refers to severe muscle stiffness, cramping and tightening of muscles and spasms that lead to extremely painful limbs. It significantly impacts a person’s quality of life in many ways; it can affect your ability to dress, walk, work, socialise and get on with daily living.

MS Ireland has urged for a legislative change to allow people with MS access cannabis-based medicine and it seems our message is being heard. The Irish Medicines Board (IMB) has already approved Sativex (cannabis in a spray form) for the Irish market and the IMB is now waiting for the legislative change to allow it prescribed. Minister White said, “MS, in particular, is one of the prominent conditions in respect of which the availability of Sativex could be beneficial,” he said.

Current disease modifying therapies and prescribed medication can have limited effect in relieving these symptoms and the decision to source cannabis illegally often comes from the fact that the person gets more relief from the effects of inhaling or ingesting it than from other medication.  With the legislation and decision-making at government and interdepartmental levels continuing at a very slow rate, people with MS are illegally purchasing cannabis to ease their symptoms of spasticity.

Access to medicinal cannabis would mean a huge improvement in quality of life for many people with MS and MS Ireland eagerly looks forward to this promised change in legislation.

Further reading