Irish Health Sectors and Their Views on Medical Cannabis

HPRA and The Department of Health’s View on Cannabis

Medical cannabis use in Ireland remains to be restricted despite Minister for Health Simon Harris pushing cannabis legalization, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar agrees. Two years ago, Harris had announced that an access programme for medical cannabis was going to be established. This programme will be set in stone to allow access to cannabis-based medication to treat a range of medical conditions such as epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy treatment.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and Medical Cannabis

Simon Harris ordered a report from the HPRA – Health Products Regulatory Authority. This report was set to scientifically examine the current evidence on the plant as a form of medication. The findings of the report Harris ordered were published in February 2017. The report showed that cannabinoids from the cannabis plant (chemical compounds also found in mammals) work together with the brain’s receptors which can immensely reduce seizure activity in the brain. This is basically the same as what the Department of Health noted

In recent years, there has been considerable interest in cannabis and cannabinoids for the treatment of human diseases, through modulation of the endocannabinoid system and potentially other systems, though the mechanism of action is not fully understood. The psychoactive effects of the plant are caused by THC through activation of CB1 receptors. CBD [Cannabidiol] has a very low affinity for these receptors (100-fold less than THC), and when it binds it produces little to no effect. Consequently, CBD does not appear to have psychoactive effects. The action of CBD on other brain pathways may be relevant to its therapeutic effects.

The report also showed that nausea and vomiting due to cancer treatments can be reduced. With the effects of cannabis’ natural anti-inflammatory properties, it has a lot of potential in treating a range of chronic diseases. Also, studies are currently being tested and evaluated for the plant and the treatment of,

  • Addiction
  • Anxiety and depression disorders
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Concussions
  • Epilepsy
  • Hypertension and Heart conditions
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Parkinson’s Disease (PD)
  • Skin Conditions (eczema, acne, psoriasis)

The report stated that the HPRA recommend access to cannabis-based medications for people suffering from certain medical conditions [named above]. Despite the evidence, the HSE and the majority of people working in the health care sector state that they won’t prescribe the medication because they believe it’s not sufficient. Despite Harris’ attempts last year, the plant as a form of medication could not be prescribed by a doctor as it was not considered a medicine despite its therapeutic effects. This was the case until November 2018. So far, 12 people in Ireland have been prescribed medical cannabis as a form of treatment.

The Department of Health and Medical Cannabis

The Health Products Regulatory Authority pretty much have the same views as The Department of Health. In 2017 the Department of Health stated

Dried cannabis plant material, for example, dried flowers, or products that have been manufactured from chemicals, known as cannabinoids, extracted from the cannabis plant can be used as medical treatments. Oils may also be manufactured from the extracts of the cannabis plant. Cannabis-based medicines have demonstrated their quality, safety, and effectiveness based on clinical trial data. They have a positive [favorable] benefit/risk profile and are subject to ongoing monitoring by regulatory authorities, such as the HPRA.

So much so that the Department of Health has allowed -trans-Δ⁹-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to be licensed for the treatment of severe, chronic pain conditions over the course of three months. With 20% of the Irish population suffering from chronic pain, medical professionals describe this licensing as “very significant”.

The issue with the delay in the change of medical marijuana laws is that access to quality controlled cannabis-based products is not easy to get. With the legalization of cannabis for recreational and medical purposes in Canada, they are about the only country as of now to have the best, high-quality cannabis you can get, but with exporting and importing laws, it remains a very grey area. While the Netherlands, for cannabis trade, is currently being looked at, due to the fact that it is a member of the EU and has experience with the plant, progress is still slow. This is because the Netherlands exports dried cannabis, but do not permit the exportation of oil-based cannabis substances. Even though The UK have quality controlled and quality approved medical cannabis products? Hmm…

Disclaimer: I am not sponsored by any cannabis-based company, of any sort. My opinions and my experiences are my own and genuine.