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“This is not compassionate”: Ireland’s medical cannabis scheme ‘excludes thousands of patients’

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Campaigners have said the scheme is not inclusive enough

Ireland’s government has finally announced funding for its Medical Cannabis Access Programme – but the scheme remains ‘extremely restrictive’, say campaigners.

Almost two years since the legislation was introduced in June 2019,  Ireland’s Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announced funding for the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme on Thursday 21 January.

The programme is expected to commence later this year, with Donnelly claiming it will allow for “compassionate access” to cannabis medicines.

But campaigners have been quick to criticise the scheme, which only offers access to four low dose cannabis-based medicines to people living with one of three qualifying conditions.

These include intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, severe treatment-resistant epilepsy and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). 

But despite all of the patients who are currently being prescribed cannabis under a ministerial license, using Bedrocan products from the Transvaal pharmacy in the Hague, none of these have been approved for the programme.

This suggests children – including 11-year-old Ava Barry – who have had their quality of life significantly improved by Bedrocan oils, will have to switch products in order to have their prescriptions reimbursed.

Ava Barry is prescribed Bedrocan oils for severe epilepsy

As has been highlighted extensively by campaigners in the UK in recent weeks, in regard to the issues importing Bedrocan due to Brexit, changing treatments for epilepsy can lead to a worsening of seizures and could be life-threatening. 

Alicia Maher is a patient and advocate who moved to Spain in 2019 in order to have better access to cannabis medicines, which she uses to manage chronic pain.

While she welcomed the news that the programme would finally be funded, she will still not be able to return to her hometown of Limerick.

“Many people have asked me whether this will impact me and whether I will be able to come home, but sadly the answer is no,” she said.

“Chronic pain is not one of the qualifying conditions, despite the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) acknowledging in their 2017 report that it is the most researched indication for cannabinoids, with the majority of reports concluding that cannabis is an effective treatment for chronic pain.”

According to Alicia, recent reports suggest that approximately 25 percent of the population suffer from chronic pain, with the condition affecting over 1.5 million people.

She was granted a ministerial licence to be legally prescribed medical cannabis last year, but would have to fund the costs of the prescription herself.

She continued: “I, along with many others that currently hold the ministerial licence and fall outside the three qualifying conditions, will not be allowed onto the access programme, even though our doctors are currently prescribing cannabis. 

“We won’t have access to any of the cannabis products that have been approved and we won’t have our costs reimbursed. 

Alicia added: “It is fiscally irresponsible as the cost of my cannabis prescription is less than my prescription was for 30 opioids per day, yet they were completely covered on my medical card.”

Campaign group, Cork Cannabis Activist Network said excluding patients from accessing these medicines is in no way “compassionate” or “acceptable”.

“The headlines are designed to paint a rosy picture favouring those in government, but this is not the truth, and most certainly for not the countless Irish citizens who consume cannabis daily for various medical reasons,” Nicole Lonergan spokesperson for the group, told Cannabis Health.

“Cannabis is complex and so are patients and their individual physiological needs. Yet the Irish government thinks it’s acceptable to offer limited access to four cannabis-based medicines and restrict access to three qualifying conditions.”

Nicole is among those who want to see cannabis legalised in Ireland, with thousands of patients still forced to access medication illegally.

The group has called for an education programme to improve understanding of the medicinal benefits of cannabis among healthcare professionals.

“Week after week, I receive hundreds of messages from people of all ages and backgrounds crying out for cannabis to be legalised,” she said.

“A comprehensive cannabis education programme needs to be urgently rolled out to GP’s and consultants in Ireland and the law needs to be changed so that no one is forced to continue relying on the illegal market for their medicine.”

Nicole added: “It is not ‘compassionate’ to exclude certain patients from accessing cannabis medicines, or to offer an extremely limited selection of products that do not suit the majority of patients’ needs. It is not ‘compassionate’ to condemn patients to rely on an illegal market or force patients to leave their homes and families to access cannabis legally.

“We deserve answers as to why the Irish government continues to uphold a law that ruins lives and prevents access to legitimate, effective medicine in all its forms.”

Announcing the provision of funding and delivery of the Medical Cannabis Access Programme, Minister Donnelly said:  “The purpose of this Programme is to facilitate compassionate access to cannabis for medical reasons, where conventional treatment has failed. It follows the clear pathway laid out by the Health Products Regulatory Authority in their expert report ‘Cannabis for Medical Use – A Scientific Review’. 

“Ultimately it will be the decision of the medical consultant, in consultation with their patient, to prescribe a particular treatment, including a cannabis-based treatment, for a patient under their care. 

“It is important to state that there are no plans to legalise cannabis in this country.”

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Weekend digest: Six big stories from the cannabis world you might have missed

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Another week, another rollercoaster in the fast-moving world of cannabis.

At Cannabis Health, our in depth coverage of the ongoing growth of cannabis as a medical and wellness product continues

Meanwhile, over at Cannabis Wealth, we’ve been following all the big industry and policy news in a week which has seen some important developments..

Been busy and want to get caught up in a hurry?

Here are the six things you need to read to stay in the loop this week.

1. Products pulled from shelves

Two batches of medical cannabis products have been recalled by regulators as investigations are carried out, following reports they may be contaminated with mould.

Medical cannabis pharmacy, Dispensary Green and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have issued a ‘precautionary’ product recall since being made aware of ‘defects’ in patient’s medication.

Concerns were initially raised after a number of medical cannabis patients spotted what they believed to be mould spores in their prescriptions.

Full story here.

2. NFL turns to medical cannabis

The National Football League (NFL) in America is providing $1 million in funding for research into pain management and cannabinoids.

The NFL is funding research into medical cannabis.

The pain management committee of the NFL and the NFL Players Association announced it would stump up the funding on Tuesday 8 June.

According to the organisation’s news platform, the move is the next step in a shifting attitude towards players who use medicinal cannabis to manage pain from injuries.

You can read more here.

3. More medical cannabis evidence

Researchers have found that the cannabinoids CBD and CBG, when used in combination, are beneficial for treating inflammation in the lungs.

Scientists at King’s College London, working in collaboration with Sativa Wellness Group have published the first results from a study into the impact of cannabinoids on respiratory diseases.

It aimed to investigate the anti-inflammatory effects of the two non-psychotropic cannabinoids alone and in combination, in a model of pulmonary inflammation.

Full details here.

4. Germany to vote for reform?

Germany’s national election on September 26 could be a landmark moment for Europe’s cannabis industry.

As Chancellor Angela Merkel prepares to leave the stage, the European Union’s most influential country looks destined for a political shakeup.

Annalena Baerbock could become Germany’s first pro-drug reform Chancellor.

It could mark a huge moment for the cannabis industry as Germany’s parliament might swing in favour of legislation.

Here’s everything you need to know about it.

5. Adapt or fail

The pro-drug reform lobby must accept it has failed and change to push its agenda ahead, leading experts have warned.

Speaking at a Global Cannabis Intelligence event about the state of advocacy in the UK, three leading policy advocates set out how they think greater access can be achieved.

The discussion comes week after the 50-year anniversary of the passage of the The Misuse of Drugs Act.

Read the full story here.

6. Isle of Man steps up

The Isle of Man government has declared it is open for business to the medical cannabis industry.

In a big to create 250 new jobs and generate £3m a year for the island, policymakers want it to become ‘a world-leading exporter’.

Applications are now open for licences to produce and distribute treatments on the island, as well as to use it as an export base.

Full details here.

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New tracking app launches for UK medical cannabis patients

Through the app patients will be able to monitor their own symptoms and medication usage

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The free health monitoring app is already being used elsewhere in the world.

UK medical cannabis suppliers Grow Pharma have teamed up with an Australian tech firm to launch a new app for patients.

The partnership with OnTracka will see them launch Calyx, a free health monitoring app already being used elsewhere in the world.

Users will be able to monitor their own symptoms and medication usage, speak securely with their doctor and contribute to gathering evidence about the use of medical cannabis.

The app will also be available in Ireland and the Channel Islands after successful launches in Australia, the US and South America.

Users will be able to monitor their own symptoms and medication usage

Pierre Van Weperen, CEO of Grow Pharma said: “Grow Pharma is currently fulfilling around a third of all prescriptions for the UK’s medicinal cannabis patients.

“Our prominent role gives us a significant advantage to building data insights into how patients are managing their health.

“This is integral to pave the way towards increasing access for patients in the UK through providing doctors with confidence around the safety and efficacy of these products.

“Using the app will generate important insights to provide real-time evidence to doctors and regulators.”

Grow Pharma hopes the app will help ‘rapidly accelerate an understanding of the safety, quality, and efficacy’ of medical cannabis.

Insights gained via the app will ‘advance the industry forward in the service of patients, shaping future legislation and policy based on patient experiences’ by providing real-world data to regulators.

Grow is in the process of raising £6 million worth of capital via a private funding round expect to be completed later this month.

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Isle of Man launches medical cannabis export sector

The Isle of Man is open for business to the medical cannabis industry.

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The move could 250 new jobs and generate £3 million a year for the island

The Isle of Man government has declared it is open for business to the medical cannabis industry.

In a big to create 250 new jobs and generate £3 million a year for the island, policymakers want it to become ‘a world-leading exporter’.

Applications are now open for licences to produce and distribute treatments on the island, as well as to use it as an export base.

The island’s regulator – the Gambling Supervision Commission – has set out conditions for the licensing of high-THC cannabis and hemp.

Enterprise minister Laurence Skelly said: “The growing global medicinal cannabis market provides significant opportunity for economic development in the Isle of Man, and the new regulatory framework and guidance will offer stringent and flexible licensing of a broad range of cannabis products, which ranges from outdoor grown industrial hemp to indoor grown medicinal products.

“The Isle of Man Government has every confidence that the GSC will provide a world class regulatory structure required to regulate this new and complex industry.

The Isle of Man wants to be a major player in Europe’s growing medical cannabis industry.

“I am delighted to welcome licence applications and look forward to attracting quality businesses to the Island, transforming the cannabis export sector into a key contributor to the Isle of Man’s post-Covid economic recovery.”

The self-governing British Crown Dependency, which has a population of 83,000, approved new medical cannabis laws in January.

The island’s parliament – the Tynwald – moved to attract the industry to its shores after a public consultation showed 95 percent of residents were in favour of the policy.

Mark Rutherford, director of policy at the island’s regulator, said: “The GSC already has a sophisticated framework for supervising gambling.

‘We have worked carefully to apply the best of that framework to the risks in the new sector and we have educated ourselves in the technical areas that are new to us.

“What we now have will ensure that all stakeholders will be competent, crime free and capable of building a sector that is safe, trusted and efficient.

“As regulators, we aspire to put our regulatory umbrella above as many consumers as possible so that they can benefit from regulations that are well thought out and properly supervised.

“Years of prohibition mean that the markets in which our licensees will be participating are still in their infancy and still contain many uncertainties.

“To address this situation, it is our aim to ensure that consumers who purchase Isle of Man products will be able to understand exactly what their product contains through accurate labelling and independent testing.

“The GSC recognises there are many stakeholders in this newly created field and intends to extend its ethos of cooperation with other government authorities into its approach to cannabis regulation.”

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