Ireland hits medical milestone as it approves cannabis prescriptions for patients

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

As the European Union gradually begins to embrace the cannabis plant in its medicinal form, another British country is leaning towards the launch of a legal medical cannabis market. 

That country is Ireland, where patients have just been informed that they will soon be able to obtain a prescription for pharmaceutical-grade cannabis products.

This “milestone” move is anticipated to provide hope to Irish families, many of which have long been struggling to obtain legal medical cannabis products; mainly due to legal barriers and high prices. However, this is not to say that obstacles have been completely lifted. 

Although a select number of medical cannabis products in Ireland were legalized a few years back, the latest announcement means that patients will soon be reimbursed for their prescribed medicines.

According to leftist MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, prescribable access to medical cannabis in Ireland provides patients with “reassurance” that their supply is 100 percent guaranteed. During an interview with EURACTIV reporters, Flanagan said that, while patients have experienced major distress, Ireland’s medical cannabis law will “put on a proper statutory footing.”

The majority of Irish people support medical cannabis legalization, with a recent survey confirming that 92 percent of respondents would favour the legalization of medical cannabis. Red C Research conducted the opinion poll on behalf of Help Not Harm in order “to understand the general views of the public towards the medical use of cannabis”.

Patients can avoid excessive cost of medical cannabis in Ireland thanks to latest move

Aside from increasing access to medical cannabis for Irish patients, the new law strives to make treatment more affordable for those who are diagnosed with qualifying conditions. 

Irish People Before Profit/Solidarity politician Eugene “Gino” Kenny has long supported cannabis reform issues in his country. Kenny, who also serves as a Teachta Dála for the Dublin Mid-West constituency, says that medical cannabis in Ireland is “prohibitively expensive” for most residents.

“This marks a milestone achievement for Ireland,” he told EURACTIV reporters.  

Kenny noted the importance of making medical cannabis in Ireland affordable, since a significant portion of “desperate families” with sick children often seek out the plant from black market dealers. Conversely, his optimism is slightly clouded by the fact that numerous barriers to access remain.

The politician stated that Ireland’s medical cannabis access program is overly restrictive; the list of qualifying conditions is fairly limited. Whereas most medical cannabis programs around the world offer patients a chance to enroll if they suffer from chronic pain—estimated to affect 10 percent of the global population—Ireland’s medical cannabis program fails to include this condition.

Due to the limitations, Kenny is prompting the Irish government to add chronic pain to the list of qualifying conditions, as well as a broad spectrum of neurological conditions. Other countries in the EU that have established medical cannabis programs, such as The Netherlands, already allow access for patients with these conditions.

Various avenues of treatment to be explored before medical cannabis in Ireland is pursued

Something else that is causing concern for Irish pot lobbyists, such as Flanagan, is a rule stipulating that other types of treatment must first be researched and tested before cannabis can be pursued as a treatment option. 

Flanagan believes that this is the wrong approach to take and could potentially cause longer delays for in-need patients. He feels that the existing evidenced-based research is sufficient to “get the ball rolling in terms of access to medical cannabis.”

“There is a concern about the fact that patients can only use products licensed under the scheme where conventional treatments fail,” Kenny said, adding that all patients “should be offered cannabis-based treatments on an equal footing with other medicines.”

Although the issue of medical cannabis use in Ireland (and further afield) is widely controversial and misinterpreted, Flanagan feels confident that the dynamic is “dramatically” transforming.

“While many medics were, and still are, skeptical, we have seen the debate shift over the past few years as it becomes more obvious the benefits that this treatment can offer,” he explained, before noting that medical cannabis treatments can be completely “transformational” for people who need it the most.