Republic of Ireland set to legalise cannabis to treat medical conditions

Dublin's Health Minister Simon Harris has given the green light for the use of cannabis in certain circumstances. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Dublin's Health Minister Simon Harris has given the green light for the use of cannabis in certain circumstances. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

The Republic of Ireland is to become the latest country to legalise the use of cannabis for treating specific medical conditions.

Despite a government-ordered report warning of a lack of evidence over the drug's safety and effectiveness, Dublin's Health Minister Simon Harris has given the green light for its use in certain circumstances.

Mr Harris said he will establish an access programme for cannabis-based treatments for conditions "where patients have not responded to other treatments and there is some evidence that cannabis may be effective".

These will include multiple sclerosis sufferers, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and epileptics.

"I believe this report marks a significant milestone in developing policy in this area," said Mr Harris.

"This is something I am eager to progress but I am also obligated to proceed on the basis of the best clinical advice."

Last November, Mr Harris asked Ireland's Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) to look at the latest evidence on cannabis for medical use and how such schemes operate in other countries.

The study found "an absence of scientific data demonstrating the effectiveness of cannabis products" and warned of "insufficient information on its safety during long-term use for the treatment of chronic medical conditions".

"The scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of cannabis across a large range of medical conditions is in general poor, and often conflicting," the HPRA report said.

"Cannabis has potential therapeutic benefits but these need to be better defined through clinical research."

However, it added any decision on legalising its use is ultimately one for society and government to make.

The HPRA advised if cannabis is to be legalised, it should be used only under strict circumstances for:

:: Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis resistant to standard treatments;

:: Nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy;

:: Severe treatment-resistant epilepsy.

Mr Harris confirmed he will set up "a compassionate access programme for cannabis-based treatments" and is now considering any changes in the law needed for its operation.

Pressure has been mounting in Britain for similar moves.

A cross-party group of MPs, including former deputy prime minster Nick Clegg and former health minister Norman Lamb, backed a report by The Adam Smith Institute and Volteface last November calling for legalisation.

Germany is already preparing to legalise cannabis for medical purposes while Canada is set for all-out decriminalisation.

The Netherlands effectively decriminalised cannabis decades ago while Portugal legalised it in 2001.