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.
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.”
CBD guides: Could CBD help with women’s intimate healthcare?
The endocannabinoid system can play a huge role in helping women’s health issues.
As the number of intimate care CBD products on the market continues to increase, we examine how CBD could help.
CBD has been associated with women’s health issues such as period pain relief, menopause insomnia and even hormonal acne. But as CBD is also thought to help us achieve homeostasis (balance) in the body, could it help to maintain vaginal health?
Women’s health and the endocannabinoid system
The endocannabinoid system is thought to regulate different functions in the body such as sleep, mood, appetite, memory and fertility. It is made up of receptors, enzymes and endocannabinoid that are found naturally all over the body. There are two major receptors called CB1 and CB2.
CB1 is usually found in the central nervous system, while CB2 is found in the peripheral nervous system. Endocannabinoids bind to the receptors to help with different problems such as pain.
The vagina, bladder and urinary tract also have endocannabinoid receptors.
CBD, unlike THC, does not bind the receptors. CBD may supplement the endocannabinoid system helping to regulate your system. The cannabinoids travel the receptor that has been stimulated and needs extra help to achieve a balance.
Depending on the dose and which receptor it is, CBD is thought to help anxiety, sleep problems, inflammation and pain.
This could be especially useful for those struggling with conditions such as endometriosis, painful periods or anxiety around sex.
When it comes to vaginal health and women’s health concerns in general, how could CBD help?
CBD may help with painful periods due to its anti-inflammatory properties. During a period, the uterus contracts to shed its lining while releasing hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. These substances are involved in inflammation and pain while triggering muscle contractions. Higher levels of prostaglandins may mean more painful menstrual cramps.
One study from 2019 revealed that women with endometriosis self-rated cannabis or CBD as most effective for soothing pain. This was compared with other practises such as yoga and stretching.
Another study, which was focused on arthritis in rats, found that CBD gel applied to the area may help to reduce pain and inflammation.
Endometriosis is an extremely painful condition that can be debilitating. The tissue from the uterus can become attach itself to other organs in the body such as fallopian tubes, ovaries or pelvis.
Studies have shown that women are increasingly turning to CBD for help alleviating the pain of endometriosis. There are on-going studies into how exactly CBD suppositories or tampons may help endometriosis but there are no results as of yet.
A study into fibromyalgia and pelvic pain for women from 2021 revealed that over one-third of the women surveyed were current CBD users with 81 per cent of this group stating the use had ‘improved their pain.’ A further 76 per cent of users said they were able to substitute CBD for other medications including opioids, NSAIDS, gabapentinoids and benzodiazapams.
There are many different reasons for vaginal dryness including menopause, medication and even particular times of a menstrual cycle.
CBD may help to soothe any redness or irritation caused by vaginal dryness. If the skin is more sensitive as a result the anti-inflammatory properties may reduce any swelling or issues of eczema or dermatitis.
CBD is thought to be potentially anti-fungal which may help with yeast infections.
However, its important to note, before you grab your CBD oil, that there are no direct studies for yeast infection. CBD may be able to boost the effects of caryophyllene oxide or beta-caryophyllene. Both of these are terpenes that are found in the cannabis plant. An older study from 1999 highlighted caryophyllene as a potential help for fungal infections in nails and the skin.
CBD may also offer some relief for irritated or itchy skin as a result of fungal infections such as candida. This is due to its potential anti-inflammatory properties which can help to reduce redness or swelling.
What is the best CBD to use internally?
While it may be tempting to use our existing CBD products in our intimate areas, it’s best not to.
CBD products for intimate areas are formulated to be used internally which means they are safe. Oils or topicals may contain ingredients or perfumes that can cause infections. The vagina contains a type of bacteria, a Lactobacillus. It produces lactic acid and helps to lower the pH of the vagina, but any form of imbalance can result in infections or thrush.
How to use CBD internally
The most common ways to use CBD vaginally are lubricants and suppositories.
While suppositories may seem scary, they can be one of the easiest ways to take CBD. They are made from from oils such as coconut, that can melt at body temperature. The CBD can take a few minutes to be absorbed by the body once it has melted the oil. It is worth noting that it can be a bit messy when the oil melts, so using something like a sanitary pad can place a barrier between your clothing and the oil.
Sex and women’s health
Latex and safety
Another way that oil-based products may cause a problem, is with latex. Oil can erode latex condoms or glide dams causing them to break or split. If CBD products are being used during sex, always make sure that the CBD being used is water-soluble.
Some people can feel really anxious around sex, due to past experiences, pain or being intimate with a new partner.
A lot of the studies conducted on anxiety and sexual anxiety appear to be focused on men. However, more general anxiety and CBD studies do have a more mixed-gender ratio.
A review from 2020 suggested that CBD could help with anxiety disorders. In reducing anxiety, a person’s libido may increase helping them to feel like sex more.
When the vagina is aroused, the mucous membranes in the vulva and vagina begin to produce a natural lubricant. This is also referred to as vasodilation, the natural process of our bodies expanding our blood vessels to allow more oxygen into certain tissues.
Some studies show that CBD may help with this process by increasing sensitivity and blood flow around the body. CBD is absorbed through the mucous membranes in the vagina and straight into the blood vessels. It is one of the quickest ways to absorb a dose of CBD as it doesn’t have to pass through the digestive system.
CBD suppositories and lubricants are designed to be used internally.
Does the endocannabinoid system have an effect on exercise euphoria?
What causes a runner’s high? Is it CBD, endorphins or our endocannabinoid systems?
The euphoric feeling after exercise, often referred to as a ‘runner’s high’, is associated with a reduction in pain, stress and anxiety.
Research now links the runner’s high to our endocannabinoid system, suggesting that the exercise-induced endorphin release it was always attributed to, is not solely responsible.
But what is our endocannabinoid system? And how does it work?
We examine endocannabinoids, endorphins and how CBD plays a part in balancing the body and exercise
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system is thought to regulate different functions in the body such as sleep, mood, appetite, memory and fertility. It is made up of receptors, enzymes and endocannabinoids.
Endocannabinoid receptors are found naturally all over the body. There are two major receptors called CB1 and CB2.
CB1 is usually found in the central nervous system, while CB2 is found in the peripheral nervous system. Endocannabinoids bind to the receptors to help with different problems such as pain. It is not fully understood how cannabinoids bind with receptors.
Endocannabinoids are actually naturally produced molecules that are similar to cannabinoids. So far, researchers have identified two key endocannabinoids: anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG).
Enzymes break down the endocannabinoids once they are no longer needed. The two major enzymes are fatty acid amide hydrolase, which breaks down AEA and monoacylglycerol acid lipase, which typically breaks down 2-AG.
What is the difference between endocannabinoids and endorphins?
Endorphins are chemicals released by the body in response to pain or exercise. They were traditionally associated with the euphoria felt after a run. However, endorphins cannot cross into the brain through the blood-brain barrier which exists to protect the brain from toxins and pathogens.
How does CBD feature in all of this?
CBD interferes with the receptors found in the endocannabinoid system to help them balance the body. However, it is not fully understood how this happens.
CBD, unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), another cannabinoid found in the plant, does not bind the receptors. CBD may supplement the endocannabinoid system helping to regulate your system. The cannabinoids travel the receptor that has been stimulated and needs extra help to achieve a balance. Depending on the dose and which receptor it is, CBD is thought to help anxiety, sleep problems, inflammation and pain.
This is why a lot of runners or athletes depend on CBD as part of their recovery routine after a strenuous workout. It may help to alleviate some of the muscle pain they endure during a run.
How this US brand is helping veterans access free CBD
“U.S. military veterans are some of the most selfless individuals so we thought the project would be a perfect fit.”
US vaping supply brand, CCELL, has partnered with the Veteran’s Walk and Talk project to provide free access to CBD.
CCELL will be partnering with the Veterans Walk and Talk (VWAT) to gift its members with limited edition CBD vapes that highlight their military service.
Veterans Walk and Talk is a community project based in the US, offering support, psychedelic therapy and cannabis.
It was founded in 2016 by Colin Wells, who served in the US Army, as a way for veterans in Southern California, Sacramento and Oklahoma, to take control of their health journey.
The project now holds regular community outreach events that provide veterans with a one-on-one psychedelic or cannabis walk and talk therapy or group hikes. They also hold trail and beach clean-ups where the community come together to give back to nature along with book clubs and comedy nights.
To mark the firm’s fifth anniversary, the CCELL team decided to join forces with VWAT.
Speaking with Cannabis Health, Joe Strain, vice president of CCELL said: “VWAT started with veterans in mind. Founder Colin Wells, who served in the US Army and experienced withdrawal traumas, began posting on social media to see if anybody wanted to join him on his hikes as a means to relieve stress.
“On these hikes, he’d provide free cannabis, education and a safe space for people to talk. These hikes inspired him to start VWAT as a way to give back to his community, with the main goal of reducing the suicide epidemic among veterans. Now, VWAT has 12 chapters across the country, all carrying the same mission.”
Joe added: “US military veterans are some of the most selfless individuals, so we thought they would be a perfect fit. We heard about what VWAT is doing for veterans and decided to support the organisation on its mission to help improve the lives and health of veterans by providing them with CBD vaporisers. The alignment was undeniable, and we’re honoured to be a part of helping them further their mission.”
Mental health and veterans
Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be common among veterans. The symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating causing flashbacks, nightmares or physical effects such as nausea or pain.
A study from 2017 highlighted the difference in PTSD between veterans and civilians. In the study of 5,826 veterans, researchers recorded a rate of 13 per cent with PTSD. This is almost double the seven per cent of the US population with a PTSD diagnosis.
Studies show CBD may help PTSD by interacting with the endocannabinoid receptors in the body.
Joe explained: “It’s known that many veterans deal with PTSD after they have served. Studies have shown that CBD can be effective in reducing PTSD symptoms. This can potentially afford members the opportunity to manage their symptoms without excessive pharmaceutical drugs, which often cause side effects.”
He added: “CCELL has produced limited edition CBD vapes which will signify that the users of the vapes are members of Veteran’s Walk and Talk. Not only is this great for the members, but it is also significant for this non-profit organisation as it helps to spread awareness about the great work that VWAT does and will help encourage more people in need to join.”
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