As the Deputy is aware, on 26th June I signed legislation which will allow for the operation of the Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) on a pilot basis for five years. This new legislation means that commercial medical cannabis suppliers whose cannabis products meet the specified requirements set out in the legislation and which have been listed in Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs (Prescription and Control of Supply of Cannabis for Medical Use) Regulations will be able to supply these products to the Irish market. Once suitable medical cannabis products are made available by suppliers, the Access Programme will make it possible for a medical consultant to prescribe, in line with the published clinical guidance, a listed cannabis-based product for a patient under his or her care for the following medical conditions, where the patient has failed to respond to standard treatments:
· spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis;
· intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy;
· severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy.
It should be noted that currently no medical cannabis products are available for use under the MCAP as it is expected that it will take some time for commercial suppliers to arrange to have their products made available on the Irish market.
The Medical Cannabis Access Programme is based on the recommendations of the HPRA's report “Cannabis for Medical Use-A Scientific Review”, and on the ‘Clinical Guidance on Cannabis for Medical Use’ which has been drawn up by an expert group of doctors, pharmacists, patient representatives and scientific experts, to support the Medical Cannabis Access Programme. The guidelines contain detailed information on the use of medical cannabis, including the clinical indications for which cannabis may be prescribed under the access programme. Currently there are no plans to extend the scope of the clinical indications under the pilot programme.
Up to date information relating to the Medical Cannabis Access Programme, which includes an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document, is available on the Department's website.
Pending full operation of the MCAP, and for medical indications not included in the MCAP, doctors may continue to utilise the Ministerial licensing route to prescribe medical cannabis for their patients, should they wish to do so. In line with the Chief Medical Officer's advice, the granting of a licence for cannabis for medical purposes must 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.