Lydia McKay looks at the issue of medicinal cannabis in Ireland.
Vera Twomey walked from Cork to Dublin to demand access to medicinal cannabis for her seven-year-old daughter which raised questions as to whether these drugs should be easily accessible in this country. Ms Twomey’s daughter, Ava Barry suffers from Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. CBD treatments have provided Ava with a measure of relief - but she needs full access to THC-based medicinal cannabis oil in order to control the seizures.
 
A report published by the Department of Health back in February recommends that cannabis should only be available for the treatment of patients with specified medical conditions, for those who have not responded to other treatments; and where there is some evidence that cannabis may be effective (Ava’s Dravet Syndrome qualifies).
 
But should medicinal cannabis be more easily accessible for other patients?
 
The specified conditions contained in the Cannabis for Medical Use report are: spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and severe, refractory or treatment-resistant epilepsy.
 
However, medicinal cannabis has been known to ease symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s syndrome, and Crohn’s disease, among others. Is there a way to widen the restrictions of medicinal cannabis without opening the debate of legalising recreational marijuana as well?
 
Last December, Clare TD Dr. Michael Harty was the only TD to vote against allowing the medicinal cannabis bill to proceed to committee stage. He claimed at the time it was “designed to legalise recreational drug use in the guise of legalising it for medicinal use”.
 
Originally, the bill did permit for the legalisation of recreational cannabis as well as medicinal. Minister for Health Simon Harris asked the Health Products Regulatory Authority to advise him on the scientific and clinical benefits of the drug but also indicated that amendments would have to be made to the proposed bill to avoid the unintended effect of making cannabis legal for recreational use.
 
Gino Kenny, a People Before Profit TD, originally put forward the bill and was overwhelmed with the reaction from the public towards it: “The emails that I’ve got from people that it will affect, or are using cannabis, are just extraordinary. Amazing. Hopefully, at the end of this process, medical cannabis will be in some form legalised in Ireland. It will give people an option.”
 
Mr. Kenny has also said that he uses marijuana for recreational use and doesn’t see why it is still illegal. “If people want to smoke a joint, it’s their business. It’s not a cardinal sin because you had a bleeding joint,” said Kenny during an interview with Hot Press last year.
 
People are cautious about the legalisation of medicinal marijuana because of the lack of research surrounding its effects. During a recent Dáil committee meeting, Neurologist and epilepsy specialist Dr Colin Doherty summed up current knowledge: “Already, it is possible to state with confidence that this drug will not work for everyone, will cause intolerable, but probably not dangerous, side effects in a few; but for those for whom it will work, it may be lifesaving”.
 
The Cochrane Library also published a report regarding the effects saying that cannabis medications “may be useful” for treating nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy; no reliable conclusions can be drawn as a treatment for epilepsy; no convincing evidence in relation to treating fibromyalgia; limited and inconclusive results in relation to the treatment of schizophrenia.
 
In an opinion piece for the Irish Times, Paul Cullen claims that this new bill is just an attempt by the Irish government to be progressive: “Modern Ireland likes to show the world it is progressive, but this isn’t like banning plastic bags or workplace smoking, because neither of those measures had any downsides.” 
 
“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this Bill has as an additional, or even a principal goal: the normalisation of cannabis. Once medicinal cannabis is legalised, it will become even harder to enforce the existing laws banning its use for recreational purposes. Is this really what we want?”
 
It is hard to deny the successful cases of medicinal cannabis. If Vera Twomey is willing to walk all the way from Cork to the Dáil to get the drug she knows helps her daughter’s epilepsy – who are we to stop her? CBD’s can be obtained with the permission of a GP as it stands so is it only a matter of time before the drug is fully legal in Ireland?