04-11-2016| Minister Harris asks HPRA for expert advice on medical cannabis

'04-11-2016| Minister Harris asks HPRA for expert advice on medical cannabis' image

Epilepsy Ireland welcomes yesterday's statement regarding medical cannabis from Minister for Health, Simon Harris TD. We believe an open, factual discussion on this complex medical and legal issue needs to happen urgently.

Minister Harris has asked the HPRA (Health Products Regulatory Authority) to provide him with their expert scientific advice. "This is not a discussion about decriminalising cannabis in any way shape or form, it is about reviewing our current policy and seeking to inform ourselves of the latest medical and scientific evidence on the potential medical benefits of cannabis for some people with certain medical conditions", the Minister said.

Given the attention that medical cannabis has received in recent months - the potential for misinformation and the risks attached to unregulated, unsupervised use of cannabis-based products, the Government must act urgently to develop a clear national policy based on medical evidence and the experiences of other countries. 

Epilepsy is a complex condition and its management must always be monitored and supervised by specialist medical professionals, who together with the patient have responsibility for designing the most appropriate individual treatment plan.

We would also encourage the Minister to engage with other stakeholders on the issue including medical professionals; international experts, patients and patient organisations.

Given the devastating impact of rare epilepsies like Dravet Syndrome and the limited success of existing drugs in treating these conditions, it is understandable that many affected families will want to reach out to investigate potential new treatment avenues. These families deserve to know as soon as possible what stance Ireland plans to take on medical cannabis into the future.

While there are many positive anecdotal cases of cannabis-based products being effective in epilepsy, there is also anecdotal evidence that these products may have a negative effect in some cases.

Ultimately, there is no robust evidence from high quality scientific studies to support the use of non-pharmaceutical cannabis-based products for the treatment of epilepsy. There are also unknown and unquantifiable risks associated with the use of unregulated, unlicensed products that have not undergone the same levels of clinical research we expect of typical medicinal products.

Further research is critical to gain a better understanding of the role of medical cannabis in epilepsy. Robust research takes time however and while it may provide answers in the longer term, the discussion on Ireland's approach to medical cannabis needs to begin now. 

For more, see Epilepsy Ireland's statement on CBD and cannabis in the treatment of epilepsy.