Minister for Health Simon Harris has announced a compassionate access programme for cannabis-based products.
He plans to implement a Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) report that recommends they be made available to some patients with multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, and those suffering nausea during chemotherapy.
Clare TD Dr Michael Harty welcomed the announcement and said the Private Members' Medicinal Use Regulation Bill before the Dáil is no longer needed. However, Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny, who tabled the Bill last year, said he planned to press ahead with it.
Dr Harty, a GP from Co Clare, described the report as a first step towards providing medicinal cannabis on a limited basis “to people who really need it”.
Last December, Dr Harty was the only TD to vote against allowing the Bill to proceed to committee stage. He claimed at the time it was “designed to legalise recreational drug use in the guise of legalising it for medicinal use”. However, Opposition parties supported the Bill and the Government allowed it to proceed after withdrawing its amendments.
Mr Kenny said the report did not go far enough because it excluded patients with other medical conditions from accessing cannabis. “It’s too restrictive. What it suggests amounts to medical discrimination by excluding some conditions where cannabis could be used.”
The largest single condition where patients report an effect from taking medicinal cannabis was chronic pain, he said, but this was specifically excluded from the access programme.
Mr Kenny acknowledged there were worries about the negative side-effects of cannabis on the brain but added: “In the overall project, the pros far outweigh the cons.”
Mr Kenny is hosting a symposium on the issue in the Rotunda Hospital on Saturday, which will be addressed by leading UK expert on medicinal cannabis, Dr Mike Barnes.
Vera Twomey from Cork, whose seven-year-old daughter Ava has been taking cannabis oil to reduce the frequency and severity of her epileptic seizures, expressed delight with the report. "It's a great step forward, but they are right to be cautious. This is a new treatment."
Ms Twomey said she was hopeful the use of medicinal cannabis would eventually be extended to other conditions such as Parkinsonism, fibromyalgia and chronic pain.
She said cannabis oil had made a huge difference to her daughter since she started taking it last October. “Her teacher said she has made more progress in the past five months than in the previous two years.”
Nuala Fenton, whose son Seán (19) is also taking cannabis oil to control his seizures, said she hoped an access programme would be set up quickly. There was a financial aspect to the issue, as well as a medical one, because of the cost of the treatment, she pointed out.
Credit was due to Mr Kenny for progressing the issue in the face of initial opposition, she added.