The South Eastern Health Board confirmed yesterday it has received the go-ahead to import and supply cannabis extract for pain relief among cancer patients at Waterford Regional Hospital.
The board said it had obtained "the necessary licences" from the Irish Medicines Board to use the extract in clinical trials. It will be some time yet, however, before the trials begin.
The SEHB said the trials were at planning stage, and no supplies of the cannabis extract had arrived at the hospital at this point.
Dr Jane Fleming, a consultant in palliative medicine with the board, said research already carried out had shown the benefits of the drug for pain relief in multiple sclerosis sufferers.
"It is hoped that patients with cancer pain will also achieve significant benefit. We are very pleased to be involved with research in this area," she said.
She added that extract of cannabis was quite different from the cannabis used for so-called recreational purposes.
Waterford Regional Hospital is the second healthcare facility in the State to be granted a licence to import cannabis extract for pain relief. Last year a hospice in Cork was given permission to engage in clinical trials of the drug.
The trials are being done in conjunction with GW Pharmaceuticals, a UK drugs company. The company began trials of the drug among MS sufferers in the UK in 2001.
The final phase of those trials is now in progress with positive results, and the company expects to be granted a licence to market the drug in the UK later this year.
The SEHB said it would adopt rigorous selection criteria in relation to patients included in the trial and each would be closely monitored.