Work of expert group on cannabis still not complete

Catherine Reilly | 25 Jan 2018 | 0 Comment(s)

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An expert group is continuing to develop guidance for healthcare professionals on a Cannabis Access Programme, almost a year after the proposed programme was announced by Minister for Health Simon Harris.

The group has made “very significant progress” in developing clinical guidelines and is also considering operational aspects for implementation of the access programme. It has met seven times to date, a Department of Health spokesperson told the Medical Independent (MI). 

“Officials in the Department of Health are working on secondary legislation to provide the necessary amendments under the Misuse of Drugs legislation to underpin the access programme. The work will take further time to complete,” said the spokesperson.

In February 2017, Minister Harris announced that he had decided to establish a “compassionate access programme” for cannabis-based treatments. This followed receipt of expert advice, which the Minister had sought from the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

The Authority advised that, were an access programme to be established, it should be for the treatment of patients with spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis resistant to all standard therapies and interventions while under expert medical supervision; intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, despite the use of standard anti-emetic regimens while under expert medical supervision; and severe, refractory epilepsy that had failed to respond to standard anticonvulsant medications while under expert medical supervision.

Currently, the Minister has the power to provide a licence for access to cannabis for medical purposes in individual cases.

“Ministerial licences for cannabis for medical purposes relate to the schedule 1 controlled substance — tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a psychoactive substance and as such is under the Misuse of Drugs legislation,” commented the Department’s spokesperson. “Licences are issued to medical practitioners and it is the responsibility of the licensee to source product that is of acceptable quality for their patient. Department officials provide guidance to licensees where possible.”

To date, the Minister has issued four licences to medical practitioners for four separate individuals.

“It remains open to an Irish-registered doctor to apply to the Minister for Health for a licence for THC-based products for medical purposes, for named patients, where this course of treatment has been endorsed by the patient’s consultant who is responsible for the management of the patient and who is prepared to monitor the effects of the treatment over time.”

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