Minister for Health launches new online information repository on medical cannabis

The Minister for Health Simon Harris has published a new online repository of information on medical cannabis on the Department of Health’s website.

The repository provides detailed information for doctors and patients on the existing Ministerial medical cannabis licence scheme, the Medical Cannabis Access Programme currently under development, and relevant legal and policy overviews on wider medical cannabis issues.

Commenting on the launch of the repository, Minister Harris outlined the goal in publishing this information:

“While the potential of cannabis is not yet fully established, there is considerable interest in the use of cannabis for medical purposes among the clinical community, members of the public and others.

The significant work that has been undertaken to date by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), the Medical Cannabis Expert Reference Group, and my Department, to advise on and facilitate access for clinicians wishing to prescribe medical cannabis for their patients, has been extremely important and so I am pleased that this vital information will now be publicly available to all.  Further developments over time will be added to the repository so it is maintained up to date.

“I hope that the information contained in this repository will allow the conversation around medical cannabis to develop and proceed in an informed manner, but always based on the best clinical and scientific information available.”

The Minister acknowledged the changing international attitudes towards medical use of cannabis, most recently Canada, however confirmed that he will continue to act with care when dealing with cannabis:

“As Minister for Health, the safe treatment of patients remains my top priority. Cannabis remains a controlled substance in many jurisdictions due to its potential for public harm. This repository of information will provide a clearer position on the possible benefits but also the precautions and potential risks of cannabis as a medical treatment and will allow doctors to make an informed decision in the best interest of their individual patients.”

There is considerable public interest in the use of cannabis for medical purposes. While the therapeutic potential of cannabis is clearly of interest and potentially promising, the quality of the evidence reported thus far is limited for many indications, and as a result clinicians, researchers and patient advocacy groups consistently cite the need for formal clinical trials to evaluate the benefits and risks of treatment.

Media reports often refer to a growing body of evidence regarding the effectiveness of cannabis. However, the HPRA report ‘Cannabis for Medical Use — A Scientific Review’ concluded that the available scientific evidence finds, at best, a moderate benefit for cannabis in a small number of conditions and conflicting evidence, or no evidence at all in a large number of other medical conditions.

Recently published clinical trial data on the effectiveness of certain cannabis-based medicines in certain epilepsy syndromes and in spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis as well as media reports regarding anecdotal potential benefits of cannabis-based products for various medical conditions has led to demands from members of the public, some political representatives, and some medical bodies to be allowed to access cannabis for medical use.  Internationally, several countries have access models  in place for cannabis for medical use.

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