On 3 November 2016 I asked the Health Products Regulatory Authority to examine the issue of medicinal cannabis and provide me with a report on the matter. I received the Authority's report ‘Cannabis for Medical Use – A Scientific Review’ on 31 January last.
On 10 February, I published the report and announced the establishment of an access programme for cannabis-based treatments for the following conditions;
- Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis resistant to all standard therapies and interventions;
- Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, despite the use of standard anti-emetic regimes;
- Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy that has failed to respond to standard anticonvulsant medications.
Patients accessing cannabis through the programme are required to be under the care of a medical consultant.
The report has been referred to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health for consideration. Meanwhile officials from my Department and the Health Products Regulatory Authority will consult with stakeholders on how the access programme will operate. It will be particularly important to engage with the clinical community in the development of a framework. Officials are also examining legislative changes that will be required to underpin the access programme.
I intend to progress the establishment of this access programme as a priority. However, to be clear, patients accessing cannabis through the cannabis access programme will need to be recommended for cannabis treatment by a relevant clinician involved in the patient's care. This recognises the relevance of such treatment for overall case planning and management of the underlying medical condition.
For the period during which this access programme is being established, it remains open to me as the Minister for Health to grant a licence under the Misuse of Drugs Act for access to cannabis for medical purposes in individual cases. Such applications will be considered on a case by case basis. The granting of a licence must, however, be premised on an appropriate application being submitted to the Department of Health, which is endorsed by a consultant who is responsible for the management of the patient and who is prepared to monitor the effects of the treatment over time.
The doctor-patient relationship is a fundamental principle upon which medical practice is based and decisions by me as the Minister for Health must respect the primacy and independence of this relationship in delivering patient care.