In 2016 the Dáil has passed a bill to make cannabis available in Ireland for medicinal use, after the Government said it would not oppose the legislation. People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny, the bill seeks to legalise and regulate cannabis products, which are used for medical purposes. Mr Kenny said his bill intended to make cannabis available to those with chronic pain, epilepsy, cancer, MS, Fibromyalgia and, under a doctor’s recommendation, would help to alleviate symptoms of illness.
Minister for Health, Simon Harris said that although he has concerns about some elements of the bill, he will not oppose its progression to Committee Stage. Mr Harris asked the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) to advise him on the scientific and clinical value of cannabis as a medicine. He said he wants to receive that advice from the agency before progressing the legislation any further.
The Minister also indicated that amendments would have to be made to the proposed bill to avoid the unintended effect of making cannabis legal for recreational use.
Minister Harris said he strongly believes that Ireland needs to take a look at policy in relation to medicinal cannabis, saying a number of countries have already taken the steps to make it available. He said he has met a number of patients and patient groups over the last few months who have highlighted their belief that it could relieve pain.
After the HPRA released their report, Mr Harris then released a statement about how things will most likely go ahead in regards to the use of Medical Cannabis. Check out this extract:
“The report stated that patients accessing cannabis through the programme should be under the care of a medical consultant
Medicinal cannabis will be made available to patients in the Republic of Ireland with certain types conditions. I’ve asked my officials now to outline to me how quickly I can put a compassionate access programme in place.
The minister thanked the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and the members of the Expert Review Group for their work on the report which he described as a “milestone” in the development of policy on medicinal cannabis.
“This report marks a significant milestone in developing policy in this area. This is something I am eager to progress but I am also obligated to proceed on the basis of the best clinical advice. The report notes that this is ultimately a societal and policy decision and I have decided to proceed with the advice of the HPRA and establish an access programme for cannabis-based treatments for certain conditions, where patients have not responded to other treatments and there is some evidence that cannabis may be effective,” Mr Harris said.
The HPRA report advised that, if a policy decision is taken to permit cannabis under an access programme, it should be for the treatment of patients with:
Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis resistant to all standard therapies and interventions whilst under expert medical supervision.
Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, despite the use of standard anti-emetic regimes whilst under expert medical supervision.
Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy that has failed to respond to standard anticonvulsant medications whilst under expert medical supervision.
Now, I am delighted that those suffering from the conditions mentioned above will get relief by using Cannabis but, I have a very big concern. What about those of us with chronic pain? What happened that we have become excluded from the list?
In his letter published on chronicpain.ie, Professor David P. Finn, PhD states:
“We now know from thousands of peer-reviewed scientific publications that the endocannabinoid system plays a key role in regulating physiological processes including pain, stress/anxiety, appetite, learning, memory and cell development.
Multiple laboratory and clinical studies support the effectiveness of cannabinoids for the treatment of a wide range of disorders, including chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and others. Further randomised, double-blind controlled clinical trials looking at larger patient numbers and over longer time frames would certainly be welcome.
Evidence to date suggests that the adverse side-effects of cannabinoids used in a clinical context are mostly mild, and not overtly serious or life-threatening.
We should also remember that cannabis plants can vary considerably, with different strains containing very different contents of THC (the constituent responsible for the ‘high’), and with over 100 different cannabinoids present in varying amounts across different strains, many of which do not have abuse potential but may still have significant therapeutic potential (e.g. cannabidiol)
There is no strong rationale for treating cannabinoids any differently than, for example, opioid drugs such as codeine or morphine, both of which are derived from a plant (the opium poppy), have been mainstays in modern medicine for decades, have abuse potential, and whose adverse effects, dependence liability and potential for harm are in fact significantly greater than those of cannabinoids.”
Professor Finn PhD is Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics in the National University of Ireland Galway and President of the Irish Pain Society.
I take 5,000 pills a year for my pain. 5,000. Let’s say I continue on these doses and I live to the ripe old age of 80. That’s 250,000 pills. A quarter of a million pills. In comparison to some of my friends, that’s a very low figure.
What happens to our bodies when we are on opiates long term?
Long term opiate use can cause veins to collapse
Can cause sedation
Can slow the digestive system (Gastroparesis)
Can cause greater sensitivity to pain (Hyperalgesia)
Can cause muscle rigidity
Can make the immune system weak
Can cause respiratory depression
Can cause twitching of the muscles (Myoclonus)
Can cause Hormonal Dysfunction
Can increase the risk of depression
the list goes on and on. I can’t imagine taking 250,000 pills for the next 50 years is going to do my liver any favours either!
What about Medicinal Cannabis?
Marijuana does have any proven side effects. THC binds to cannabinoid receptors, which are concentrated in areas of the brain associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception. The effects of marijuana can interfere with attention, judgment and balance. Some studies have produced conflicting results on whether smoking marijuana carries a significant cancer risk but there’s nothing concrete. There is also conflicting evidence on whether long term use of Cannabis effects one’s mental health but again, nothing concrete. Scientists say that it may increase the risk of psychosis but, those studies seemed to focus on the use of Cannabis in teens and young adults recreationally, not medicinally. If someone has evidence to state otherwise, please do let me know so I can amend this.
There is a plethora of evidence that shows Medical Cannabis can be very beneficial for patients with chronic pain. Many of us would opt for Cannabis as it is diverse and doesn’t need to be smoked. It’s also natural so we could cut way back on the manufactured pain meds. Surely it would be much cheaper for the HSE to supply chronic pain patients (who have medical cards) with something that can be grown in abundance than to pay for trillions of pills each year?
Taken from Irish Health, ‘Long Waiting Times for Chronic Pain Patients’, Jan 2016
“Chronic pain affects around 13% of the Irish population, however those affected have to wait an average of two years before seeing a doctor specialising in this area. According to Dr Dominic Hegarty, a consultant in pain management at Cork University Hospital, chronic pain ‘presents a major challenge to the citizens and the economy of Europe’.
Most people affected experience their pain for more than two years and some are affected for 20 years or longer. Chronic pain patients make an average of seven visits to healthcare providers every year, with 22% making more than 10 visits.”
Imagine how these stats would change if medical cannabis was prescribed to chronic pain patients? If cannabis is as effective as the experts say for chronic pain patients, it could mean waiting times drastically reducing as many patients wouldn’t need to see as many specialists.
There is so many things wrong with our health system here in Ireland. Waiting times are abysmal across the board. Many of us finally get to see the specialists, get prescribed a cocktail of meds, exhaust all options for it not to work. The patients are loosing out. What does the Government have to loose by allowing those who have exhausted all options to try medicinal cannabis?
Let me leave you with this, dear Minister. People with chronic pain are three times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders according to Harvard University. So, not only are the Government and HSE footing the bill for pain treatment but for psychiatric treatment also. Three times more likely to develop conditions such as depression and anxiety, is it any wonder why there is such high rates of suicide amongst the chronic pain community?
Please think about the implications of excluding those of us with chronic pain. By allowing us to give medicinal cannabis a try, you’re potentially giving a piece of a person’s life back or saving one.
A sufferer of chronic pain, a mother of two children with chronic pain disorders and of course, a citizen of Ireland.