This year, medical cannabis has been added to the HSE service plan; in short, this will allow for the patent of medications containing cannabis to be prescribed to patients. To date, four products have been approved, and more are being reviewed. However, the criminal association of cannabis in Ireland has troubled the movement, notwithstanding the fact that such medical treatments that have been supported by various studies, including one by the Journal of Psychopharmacology (2020), which details the high demand by patients and the reluctance of health services to fulfil this demand.
This year, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and the Irish health service signed off on a medical products programme for cannabis. This marks a huge step forward for the medical use of cannabis in Ireland. Cannabis can be used for epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and as a symptom relief medication. Symptom relief is a medical therapy that alleviates symptoms of diseases and reactions. In the case of medical cannabis, it can also be used to counteract pain and vomiting associated with chemotherapy.
Years of criminal legislation and association through simple campaigning has given medical cannabis a tough time rehabilitating itself, as before the early stages of the 20th century, cannabis was previously used for medical purposes.
There is an availability of cannabidiol (or CBD) on many high streets which contain cannabinoids but not tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC) content, which the psychoactive element in cannabis. Research shows that CBD is effective in combating “childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), which typically don’t respond to antiseizure medications. In numerous studies, CBD was able to reduce the number of seizures. In some cases, it was able to stop them altogether”.
CBD is classified as a foodstuff and as a drug, thus lacking regulation which would make sure that CBD is fit for purpose and intended to treat ailments. While there is fear around THC contained in medical cannabis treatments, current legalised cannabis drug Sativex contains THC and is approved in the Republic of Ireland and the UK.
CBD can be grown in hemp plants, which are grown on a small number of farms in Ireland . The benefit of increased legality and support would mean that hemp farms can be a viable and sustainable agricultural industry, as well as supporting Ireland's increasing role in Biomedical research and development. There is economic potential in cannabis medicine and agriculture that cannot be ignored easily.
There remains much fear around medical cannabis, with some of that fear directed at the possibility that legalisation for the purpose of medicinal use will lead to full legalisation. While there is evidence to support the negative effects of recreational cannabis smoking among teenagers and young adults, medical use does not carry any such negatives.
It should also be noted that methadone is used as a synthetic medical drug that can be prescribed for those wishing to combat heroin addiction. This is because, like heroin, methadone is an opiate and users can overdose, with potentially lethal consequences. Medical cannabis, on the other hand, cannot be lethal to users in any way.
With COVID-19, those who previously had to travel to the Netherlands to collect their medical cannabis can now have it delivered to them, meaning those who need this medicine to combat symptoms from a wide range of illnesses can get the treatment they need.
While there are more challenges down the line for medical cannabis and hemp farms, we can be sure, from viewing other countries, that the process of regulating and approving medical cannabis by central health services may be slow, but that those in need will receive their medication at lower prices and guaranteed value in their product.