Doctor calls for strict regulation of medicinal cannabis
UL’s Dr Ray O’Connor backs proposed law on medicinal cannabis if safeguards in place
Medical marijuana plants: UL’s Dr Ray O’Connor says, “It won’t be a case of walking into a pharmacy and getting six bags of cannabis and ‘Happy days’.” Photograph: James MacDonald/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes would prove much safer than patients sourcing illegal cannabis on the street to relieve chronic health conditions, a Limerick doctor has claimed.
Dr Ray O’Connor, of the graduate entry medical school in the University of Limerick, said he supported proposed legislation on the drug but called for strict regulations should it pass into law.
He said “it won’t be a case of walking into a pharmacy and getting six bags of cannabis and ‘Happy days’”.
“It will be given for specific purposes for specific patients, and will need to be strictly monitored to ensure that it is not abused,” he said.
Dr O’Connor has said illegal cannabis is widely available to those who seek it, and in cases of medical need, legislation would help ensure patients consume a safer product.
“You will be able to control the dosage prescribed to patients. It would have to be done in the same way as prescribing methadone, where there is a strict protocol in place and there isn’t a free-for-all system,” he said.
“A person buying illegal cannabis [resin] on the street, for their own medical use, could be smoking or inhaling a substance that is mixed with rat poison, and which could have far greater implications for their health.”
Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell, a pharmacist, recently said legalising medicinal cannabis was “madness” and “verging on the immoral”.
Dr O’Connor said he did not agree with the deputy’s “emotive” language.
He said some patients, including those who have muscle spasms and epilepsy, had reported improved health after consuming cannabis but it was hard to gauge whether “this was a placebo effect or not”.
“I wouldn’t prescribe cannabis for everybody [if legislated]. There are potential pitfalls, which is why we need to be awfully careful.”
A report by the Health Protection Regulatory Authority found an absence of scientific data on the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis.
Dr O’Connor said other legal drugs have given rise to addiction, especially benzodiazepines, or relaxants, and alcohol, describing addictions to those drugs in Limerick as “massive”.
“We already use drugs for medical purposes that have the potential for addiction and are available on the street, such as morphine for people with terminal illness,” he said.
The Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016, brought by People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny, passed first stage in the Dáil in December after the Government said it would not oppose it.