Legal marijuana high on agenda?

Paul Hopkins – Talking the Talk

MARIJUANA, or cannabis, can be used for medicinal purposes to relieve symptoms of many chronic illnesses. This is well documented.  Access to it as a medicine is now allowed in Canada (where last month recreational use from October next was legalised), the Netherlands, Australia, Israel and 28 states in the US, while Germany and Switzerland allow it to be imported from the Netherlands for medicinal use. Last week, the debate renewed in the UK,

A renewed debate and a call on the European Commission to work with Member States to “improve equal access to medicinal use”  comes as a number of high profile cases have come to the fore – the latest, a young “severely epileptic” boy, Billy Caldwell (12), from Tyrone, who was granted a 20 day licence for the drug after doctors said it was a medical emergency.

Mairead McGuinness, MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament, says: “Such cases point to the system lagging behind the needs of patients, and it is time to act.”

‘In a HSE survey, 58.6% of Irish GPS do not support legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use’

The use of medicinal cannabis continues to be restricted here, despite moves last year to permit it in limited circumstances.

Minister for Health Simon Harris in 2016 commissioned a report from the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) to examine the scientific evidence for its use.

After favourable findings were published in February 2017, the minister announced he would implement the HPRA recommendation that cannabis-based products be made available to some patients with, notably, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, and those suffering nausea from chemotherapy.

Since November last, GPs who wish to prescribe cannabis-based products containing THC (the main psychoactive component of cannabis) may apply to the minister for a licence under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

As such, unless given under the above special dispensation, no cannabis product can be prescribed by a doctor because it is not considered a medicine. The ‘special dispensation’, if granted, is effectively a three-month licence for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for the treatment of severe chronic pain. Health agencies estimate as many as one in five of us suffers chronic pain.

Many are concerned, arguably, about any pharma drug finding its way onto the recreational market and also about possible psychotic and addictive side-effects. Those advocating a change in the law maintain that there would be less risk of either with specially produced and controlled cannabis.

As it stands, the HSE believe that, while the evidence that cannabinoids can ease seizures in adults and children and alleviate symptoms for some with inflammatory diseases, the evidence is not conclusive. And that the side-effects of marijuana are an unknown, and would vary from person to person.

In a HSE survey, 58.6% of Irish GPs do not support  legalisation  for medical use, a quota that suggests further debate.

Meantime, advocates of decriminalising marijuana for recreational as well as medicinal use, like Ireland’s Green Party and Britain’s William Hague, say its prohibition is an “unwarranted intrusion in individual freedom of choice”. Crime and violence are greatly increased due to illegal selling and buying and a change in the law would logically end such behaviour. And it would prove a huge revenue earner.

Fresh calls for proper medical legislation fuels the debate for all-round legislation and may even prove a ‘tipping point’ policy moment, but such a change is likely some ways off. The jury,as thye say,  is still out …