By Roland Sebestyén
A number of doctors treating people with epilepsy have written to Ireland’s Minister of Health to raise their concerns about the products on offer through the country’s medicinal cannabis access programme.
According to the Irish Times, nine neurologists have expressed their concerns that the programme could potentially harm patients, due to the contents of products available through the scheme. All four medical cannabis products contain THC – the most psychoactive of the compounds produced by the cannabis plant.
In an open letter written to the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, they state: “Not only is there a lack of evidence to support the use of THC in epilepsy, but there are significant concerns regarding its psychiatric and cognitive effects, particularly when used in children.
“Because there is widespread concern about the programme among neurologists in Ireland (because inappropriate and potentially harmful products will be available through the programme), the programme runs the risk of not being utilised.”
Doctors treating patients with epilepsy say they are concerned the programme will be a missed opportunity to help those in need.
Dr Colin Doherty, a consultant neurologist at St James’s Hospital, told the Irish Times: “I’m receiving frustrated calls every day from patients telling me the scheme has been launched, but there is nothing on it for them.
“This is supposed to be the solution, but it can’t, won’t and never will, in its current form, deliver for patients and their families.”
According to the paper, at least 63 patients have gained access to medical cannabis products from a pharmacy in the Netherlands, through a licence from the Minister for Health.
Recently, Ireland approved the first cannabis-derived epilepsy drug, CannEpil – free on the health service.
CannaEpil is a high CBD: low THC cannabinoid-derived formulation which is designed to treat forms of drug-resistant epilepsy. The drug was made available for prescription and distribution in Ireland in 2019 as part of the MCAP.
Reportedly, medical professionals in Ireland can prescribe CannEpil for patients under their care for a range of medical conditions in addition to Epilepsy.
Roby Zomer, Co‐founder and Managing Director of MGC Pharma, said in a statement: “This is a key moment for MGC Pharma and for the Irish patients who can now receive cannabis‐based treatments covered by the National Health Insurance.
“Our goal is to improve the lives of people who suffer from Refractory Epilepsy and other indications, and by making CannEpil available free to access for patients in Ireland, this will now be the case.
“With further Clinical Trials of CannEpil underway, we hope to be able to increase the supply and availability of the medicine in the most affordable way to epilepsy sufferers globally in the near future.”
Ireland’s medicinal cannabis access programme was recently reformed, introducing a direct payment system for medical cannabis prescriptions. Prior to this change, patients were required to fund their prescriptions – sometimes totalling thousands of euros – before applying and receiving a refund from the Ministry of Health.