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Government considers approval of cannabis-based drug

Calls for ‘cannabinoid’ medicine currently available in Spain and the UK to be introduced in Ireland to help alleviate the symptoms of MS.

Image: ukhomeoffice via Creative Commons

THE DEPARTMENT of Health is considering the introduction of cannabis-based medication which could be used by MS sufferers to alleviate symptoms of the disease.

Responding to Dáil questions submitted by Fine Gael TD Seán Kyne and Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Minister of State at the Department of Health Róisín Shortall said that she was “aware” of claims of health benefits for MS sufferers from the medication Sativex.

Sativex is administered by spraying into the mouth of the patient and is currently available in Spain, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. Its manufacturers say that the drug is also being developed to alleviate cancer pain.

Legislation in Ireland prohibits doctors from prescribing Sativex.

“Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, the manufacture, production, preparation, sale, supply, distribution and possession of cannabis-based medicinal products is unlawful except for the purposes of research,” Shortall said in her written answer.

However, my department is examining the issues associated with applying controls, similar to those that apply to other controlled drugs that can be misused, such as morphine and methadone, to cannabis-based medicinal products to permit them to be prescribed and dispensed in Ireland.

Current Minister for Health James Reilly had put a similar question to former minister Mary Harney last year, to which she replied that she was reluctant to loosen restrictions on the use of Sativex because of the level of cannabis abuse in Ireland. Harney said the was “seeking expert clinical advice on the matter” and was open to making a change to legislation if the advice support the use of medicinal cannabis.

MS Ireland said earlier this summer that it was invited to participate in a review panel regarding Sativex during Harney’s tenure, but that nothing happened after the initial contact.

The organisation says it has heard anecdotal evidence of MS sufferers turning to illegal cannabis use to alleviate the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. It says people should not be forced into such activity and that Sativex should be made available to MS sufferers who need it.

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