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.”
9 out of 10 readers have self-medicated with cannabis
Nine out of 10 Cannabis Health readers have consumed cannabis for medical purposes without a prescription – and almost all said they found it to be more effective than conventional medicines.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been asking for your views on social media to delve deeper into how people are consuming cannabis.
As expected, the proportion of our readers who self-medicate with cannabis was high, but the results also demonstrate the perceived effectiveness of cannabis in comparison with traditional medication, highlighting a need for wider access to safe cannabis based medicines.
Despite the law around medical cannabis changing over two years ago, gaining a prescription can still be challenging, particularly on the NHS.
This has forced a lot of patients to take matters into their own hands.
According to research, as many as 1.4 million Brits are self-medicating with cannabis, equivalent to just over two percent of the country’s population.
Studies from the US have backed this up, with one suggesting that as many as a third of teenagers with a chronic health condition have taken it upon themselves to manage their symptoms with cannabis.
We asked our readers if they were self-medicating to treat a health condition, with the results confirming that almost 94 percent of people said they were.
On top of this, a further five percent said they were not currently, but were open to the idea.
Just over one percent said they weren’t self-medicating due to the stigma attached, however no one responded that the law was a factor in this.
Effectiveness of self-medicating
Anecdotal evidence and some early studies suggest that cannabis can ease symptoms of some chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia, where other, more conventional medicines have failed.
There is also promise in the potential of cannabis to relieve some mental health conditions, with some saying it has provided huge relief for disorders such as PTSD.
Ninety five percent of Cannabis Health readers polled said they found cannabis extremely effective at relieving symptoms.
In addition no one said they had found it ineffective when it comes to treating their condition.
The remaining five percent said they found it to have a similar effect as their conventional treatments.
Route to administration
How patients consume cannabis can have an impact on its effectiveness, as well as how quickly it kicks in.
With such high numbers both self-medicating and reporting positive effects, we wanted to discover the common consumption methods.
Smoking the flower is the traditional method of consuming cannabis and often viewed as the one which can provide the most relief.
However, even though it has been seen to be less harmful than tobacco, smoking can still lead to a number of other health issues and is note recommended by health professionals.
Despite this, it remained the most popular choice among Cannabis Health readers, with just over a third saying this is how they consume cannabis.
The modern alternative to this is vaping, which was the second most common route to administration among Cannabis Health readers.
Around a third of readers said this was their preferred consumption method.
Some professionals argue this is the healthiest way for consumption, with clinics recommending vaping cannabis flower, but more research is needed in this area.
One method which has few negative effects is the use of oils or tinctures.
This is typically how CBD is consumed, with 21 percent of readers saying this was their preferred method.
Self-medicating alongside conventional medicines
The NHS says it is unlikely that many people in the UK will be able to gain access to a medical cannabis prescription.
Despite this, many patients have chosen to self-medicate with cannabis either alongside or often in the place of conventional therapies.
The majority of readers agreed with this, with 55 percent saying they no longer use conventional medicines in favour of cannabis.
A further 22 percent said they would only use their conventional medicines if they did not have access to cannabis and the remainder said that they still consume cannabis alongside conventional medication.
Want to get involved? Cannabis Health will be running a number of polls over on our social media pages, to find out more about your views on CBD and cannabis for medical and wellbeing purposes.
Cannabis may lead to “rebound” headaches in migraine patients – study
New findings suggest cannabis could lead to “rebound” or medication overuse headaches, in patients living with chronic migraine.
Using cannabis for relief from migraines may be associated with developing “rebound” headaches, according to researchers in the US.
“Rebound” headache, also known as medication overuse headache, occurs when pain medication is overused by patients who have an underlying primary headache disorder such as migraine.
The findings are from a preliminary study released on March 1, 2021, by a team of researchers at Stanford University.
For the study, researchers looked at the records of 368 people who had chronic migraine for at least a year. Chronic migraine is defined as 15 or more headache days per month.
A total of 150 of the people were using cannabis and 218 were not.
The researchers looked at who had medication overuse headache and other factors that could affect the development of overuse headache, such as frequency of migraines, overuse of other medications for acute migraine and how long they had chronic migraine.
Of the 368 people, 212 had medication overuse headache and 156 did not.
They found that the people using cannabis were six times more likely to have medication overuse headaches than those who did not use cannabis.
People who were using opioids were also more likely to have current cannabis use.
Previous research has shown that opioids and cannabis can both influence the part of the brain called the periaqueductal gray, which has been linked to migraine.
The findings will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 73rd Annual Meeting being held virtually April 17-22, 2021.
“Many people with chronic migraine are already self-medicating with cannabis, and there is some evidence that cannabis can help treat other types of chronic pain,” said study author Niushen Zhang, M.D., of Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, Calif., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.
“However, we found that people who were using cannabis had significantly increased odds of also having medication overuse headache, or rebound headache, compared to people who were not using cannabis.”
A limitation of the study is that it was retrospective; longitudinal studies will be needed to further explore cause and effect of cannabis use and medication overuse headache in patients with chronic migraine.
Always Pure Organics: “The UK is a front runner in establishing a regulated CBD market”
Following the submission of its novel food application, Always Pure Organics’ chief scientific officer, Andrew Megahy, shares what’s next for firm and the industry as a whole.
As of Thursday 18 February, Always Pure Organics submitted three dossiers to the FSA for CBD-based Novel Foods; one for their Swiss Isolate, one for their Colombian Isolate and one for their Colombian Distillate.
In the following update on the company’s application process, Andrew Megahy, chief scientific officer discusses next steps, the benefits of such regulations to the industry and gives praise to the input of several parties including Canna Consultants, DevelRx and FERA and the FSA themselves.
“This was a long and arduous process, which would not have been possible without the assistance of several parties.
DevelRx have provided extensive toxicology guidance and excellent advice regarding the design of toxicology studies, The Canna Consultants have proven invaluable at navigating the red tape and legislation regarding Novel Foods, and FERA have provided top-notch analysis of the products we submitted.
In addition to the assistance provided by the parties mentioned above, the FSA themselves have been incredibly helpful throughout.
A first draft dossier was submitted to them in December on an informal basis, with extensive feedback provided in early January. The FSA then reached out to us for a discussion regarding the feedback in a meeting with the relevant members of the FSA. This meeting was greatly beneficial in finalising our dossiers, and we have enjoyed consistent discussion with the FSA through their designated email for the miscellaneous questions that have arisen throughout the process.
We hope that the Novel Foods process will prove to be beneficial for the market in both the UK and rest of Europe overall, which we see arising from three main facets. The first is that more stringent regulations will improve the quality of products in the market, which will subsequently increase consumer confidence.
Greater confidence should lead to improved market growth. More stringent restrictions on products will also help to legitimise the industry, something that has always been an issue with CBD being sourced from cannabis.
If the market is perceived to be more legitimate, the chances of investment from recognised bodies is improved, again increasing market growth.
The final beneficial aspect comes from the UK being a front runner in establishing a regulated CBD market. This puts the UK at a distinct advantage for all the factors mentioned above as it will be able to take advantage of them first, and it also creates an example for other countries to follow for establishing their own regulated markets.
Even if these countries decide not to follow the UK’s route to compliance exactly, they will at least be able to learn from how it was implemented and use that to design their own regulated markets.
As this is a new process for ourselves, the FSA and the CBD industry as a whole, we expect Novel Foods to be less of a project that gets finished and then moved on from, and more akin to a work-in-progress that will develop over time until all parties are satisfied.
There are still several questions that remain to be answered, one of which relates to the adding of new products to an application. There has been no guidance from the FSA regarding updating an application to allow for new brands, products or raw material suppliers.
This is perfectly understandable when considering that they are focused on making sure their process for companies getting validated is correct and running smoothly, but such questions will need to be dealt with at some point in the future.
Based on the timeline provided by the FSA for submissions, we hope to have a decision regarding the validation status of our respective dossiers before April. From the amount of work that has gone into them, we feel confident that we will receive validation, but this of course is entirely reliant on the FSA’s decision. Whatever the outcome, we will continue to serve our customers to the best of our capacity to ensure their needs are met.”
Always Pure Organics aim to be the driving force behind the global understanding, research, education, and ultimately distribution of cannabis derived products.
We offer the highest quality wholesale legal cannabis and cannabinoid products, as bulk ingredients, bulk products, white label, and bespoke formulations. This is coupled with regulatory and legal expertise and supported by delivery within three working days across Europe.
Our unique bespoke formulation products allow our customers to create their own product from scratch, whilst we provide the regulatory and product knowledge, as well as production of the product.
To find out more about how Always Pure Organics can support your business on its CBD journey visit alwayspureorganics.com or follow us on LinkedIn.
- 9 out of 10 readers have self-medicated with cannabis
- Cannabis may lead to “rebound” headaches in migraine patients – study
- Always Pure Organics: “The UK is a front runner in establishing a regulated CBD market”
- Charlotte’s Web announces long-term study into effects of CBD
- What is fibromyalgia – and can cannabis help?
- How you can take part in a worldwide survey on cannabis and endometriosis
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