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Our conservative approach to medical cannabis is prolonging people's suffering

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

Ireland - 09/2021 Please take some time to read this article published on the Business Post, which is the author's write-up of a story sent in by one of our by community members GreenTea. This actual article is behind a paywall on the original publication, so we are making it available to you here: "This column has presented the argument for the legalisation of recreational cannabis. On foot of this, readers have sent correspondence regarding their use of cannabis for medical reasons. It made for difficult reading. There are many Irish families in desperate situations who have become resigned to the everyday anguish of constant, chronic pain. There is silent suffering in this country, and many of those who endure it have resorted to the drugs black market to ease that pain. The decision to access cannabis illegally has consequences which compound the suffering. The government will justly point to the Medical Cannabis Access Programme. Patients can access cannabis via prescription to relieve the symptoms of medical conditions where conventional treatments are unsuccessful. Under this scheme, which is in operation since the beginning of the year, the HSE will meet the cost of four specified cannabis products. Patients must otherwise pay for prescriptions not listed within the scheme. The licensing system appears to be overly cumbersome and bureaucratic. In May, Stephen Donnelly, the Minister for Health confirmed that there are four cannabis-based products that that have been accepted for use in the medical cannabis access program so far. The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) is currently reviewing a small number of cannabis applications. The Irish approach to authorising cannabis-based products for medical use is conservative. One doctor has resorted to writing a letter to the Irish Times as a means of advocating for his epilepsy patients. Professor Norman Delanty, consultant neurologist at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, wrote about how the Epidyolex drug is the only medical cannabis product approved by the European Medicines Agency, yet is still not approved for reimbursement by the HSE. "I could now prescribe Epidyolex for my pationes who I think might benefit from it, but it is prohibitively expensive at around €2,000 per month", he said. Epidyolex is prescribed for children with rare forms of epilepsy. Patients endure multiple seizures a day and not respond to most other available treatments. Epidyolex is the difference between going to school and living a normal childhood, or wearing a protective helmet and waiting for yet another unexpected loss of control to occur. It transforms lives. A similar situation exists for the cannabis-based medicine Sativex, which is used to treat multiple sclerosis. Sativex is available on prescription but not yet eligible for the drug purchase scheme. It costs approximately €500 per month. It treats muscle stiffness and spasms caused by MS.

The British MS Society acknowledges that Sativex does not work for everyone, "But for those it does work for, their spasticity symptoms get significantly better", it states. Spasticity reduces by at least 20 percent in around seven in 10 Sativex users. But €500 a month for Sativex is beyond the reach of many. A family carer of a loved one living with MS explained how they grew cannabis to circumvent the cost. This has heart-breaking consequences because they are unable to access home help services or supports, as they are too scared of being caught with the cannabis plants. "I've been a carer now for three years without a day off, I only started growing during the pandemic and it's changed our lives. I live on €220 per week. I am so isolated now. Being a carer is hard enough, but being a carer who grows means never being able to have visitors or home help. I am so lonely," they wrote me. The reader explained how growing cannabis was safer than buying bad-quality products on the black market. The technique of cannabis cultivation is critical. Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in plants, including cannabis leaves. It gives the cannabis a harsh taste and smell if it's not removed before or after the drying process. The quality of the cannabis is also dependent on how long it is cured. Different strains of cannabis have different terpenes, which are aromatic oils contained within the plant, and which in turn have different effects. If it is dried at too high a temperature, the terpenes evaporate and a higher proportion of the ingredient cannabidiol, or CBD, in the flower can cause paranoia. Black market cannabis does not come with a description of the chlorophyll, terpenes or CBD contained within. You get what you are given. Thus, there is motivation by some to grow their own. One such person was Evelyn Corrigan, a 68-year-old legally blind Dublin pensioner, who was acquitted last July of possessing a third of a kilogram of the drug for sale or supply. Corrigan sowed three seeds in plant pots in her garden to treat the pain she said she had experienced due to glaucoma and spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spaces within the spine. The pensioner spent for years waiting for her criminal trial to commence. Her GP gave evidence to the court that by using her own CBD oil, Corrigan was able to manage her pain and anxiety well enough to take exercise. "Since stopping her CBD, her symptoms have returned and we have been trying to manage it by more conventional means", she said. So many people in this country are enduring life rather than living it. The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. Are we prolonging their pain unnecessarily?"

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