Patients with multiple sclerosis, severe epilepsy, or undergoing chemotherapy could be given cannabis based drugs to alleviate symptoms

Ireland is set to legalise the use of cannabis for treating specific medical conditions, after a report commissioned by the government said the drug could be given to some patients with certain illnesses.

Irish health minister Simon Harris said he would support the use of medical cannabis “where patients have not responded to other treatments and there is some evidence that cannabis may be effective”.

The report said cannabis could be given to patients with a range of illnesses including multiple sclerosis and severe epilepsy, to offset the effects of chemotherapy.

“I believe this report marks a significant milestone in developing policy in this area,” Harris said. “This is something I am eager to progress but I am also obligated to proceed on the basis of the best clinical advice.”

Last November, Harris asked Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) to examine the latest evidence on cannabis for medical use and how schemes to facilitate this operate in other countries.

The study found “an absence of scientific data demonstrating the effectiveness of cannabis products” and warned of “insufficient information on the drug’s safety during long-term use for the treatment of chronic medical conditions”.

“The scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of cannabis across a large range of medical conditions is in general poor, and often conflicting,” it added.

However, it added that any decision on legalising use of cannabis was ultimately for society and government to make.

Harris said he wanted to set up a “a compassionate access programme for cannabis-based treatments” and was now considering any changes in the law needed for its operation.

The new medical cannabis scheme will run for five years and will be constantly monitored by Irish health service experts.

The big policy shift came in the same week that the Fine Gael-led coalition in Dublin backed the idea of a “safe injection” room for heroin addicts in Ireland’s capital.

Last year, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the former Irish Labour party junior health minister, became the first politician to call publicly for a safe injection centre for the more than 20,000 registered heroin addicts in Dublin alone.

Ó Ríordáin also said he favoured of making the possession of heroin, cocaine or other opiates for personal use no longer an arrestable offence.

Although he is no longer in government, after last year’s election, Ó Ríordáin’s suggestion of partial decriminalisation of drugs among users won the backing of rank-and-file police officers in Ireland, who said it would free up resources.

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