Medicinal cannabis and pain relief


Sir, – Recent commentary in your pages on my proposed Bill to legislate for the use of medicinal cannabis contains serious inaccuracies (“Can cannabis cure cancer? The proof isn’t out there”, Health + Family, May 23rd).

First, the Dáil did not vote in February to legalise cannabis for specific medical conditions. The Government, following on from a Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) report, proposed a severely limited access programme. This will only allow certain consultants to prescribe cannabis-based products and only to treat named symptoms of specific conditions: nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy, muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis and for severe intractable epilepsy. The Government has also insisted that cannabis-based products not be used until all other authorised drugs have been tried first.

Second, I have never stated, nor do I believe, that cannabis cures cancer. Ironically, in refuting an argument that I have never made, David Robert Grimes has frequently quoted from reports that actually support the argument I do make – medicinal cannabis should be available for sufferers of chronic pain under the guidance of their doctor.

Third, it is offensive that the author should try to lump this Bill and its supporters with dubious and false claims around the use of cannabis for autism. I note he does not mention the fact that it is often regulated and prescribed drugs that are frequently used inappropriately in “treating” autism. I do not believe autism can be treated by cannabis any more than the myriad regulated drugs that are also often misused in this regard.

Fourth, the Bill does not seek “unfettered access” to cannabis. It seeks to regulate medicinal cannabis. It is called the “Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill” for a reason. The clue is in the title.

In April, the Irish Medical Organisation voted at its annual general meeting for a motion that urged the Government not to legislate to restrict prescriptions for medicinal cannabis to consultants only. The doctors urged that legislation be “informed by the evidence base”. This strongly supports the position taken in the People Before Profit Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016.

The HPRA has not been able to explain why it has rejected regulatory regimes in other EU countries, such as Germany, Italy or the Netherlands. Neither can it explain the medical or scientific basis for excluding the use of cannabis for pain relief, especially when the alternative drugs, such as opioids and benzodiazepines, are responsible for overdose deaths, and cannabis products are well recognised medically to have no fatal overdoses. The use of cannabis products in the US has driven down sales of more toxic pharmaceuticals and reduced fatal overdoses. Medicinal cannabis legislation saves lives.

The Barnes report published last year outlines the growing evidence base for the use of cannabis based medicines and especially the strong evidence for its use for pain relief. Prof Mike Barnes of the University of Newcastle and Prof David Finn of NUI Galway have given evidence directly to the joint Oireachtas Health Committee on the effectiveness of cannabis products, especially for pain relief, but their evidence has been ignored so far by Minister for Health Simon Harris. Not one doctor from the HPRA working group has given evidence to the health committee to offer support for the Government position.

I do agree with Dr Grimes on one point – it is always unpleasant to be targeted for abuse or to have one’s motivations questioned. This Bill’s motivation is to relieve the suffering of thousands with various conditions. That is all. – Yours, etc,


Dáil Éireann,

Leinster House, Dublin 2.