Medicinal Cannabis – Time for EU Action in the Interests of Patients

Mairead McGuinness288 views

A call for action in the area of medical cannabis, urging Member States to secure sufficient availability of safe and controlled cannabis for medicinal purposes to cater for actual needs, will be voted on in the European Parliament’s Environment, Food Safety and Public Health Committee this afternoon (Wednesday).

The resolution calls on the European Commission to work with Member States to improve equal access to medicinal cannabis and comes as a number of high profile cases around medicinal cannabis have come to the fore – the latest involving a young boy from Tyrone, who was granted a 20 day licence for the drug after doctors said it was a medical emergency.

Speaking in advance of the vote, Mairead McGuinness, MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament said, “Such cases point to the system lagging behind the needs of patients, and it is time to act.

“In Ireland, a special license has been granted in a very limited number of cases for the use of medicinal cannabis,” she explained.

“The Minister for Health can grant a licence for access to cannabis for medical purposes in individual cases when an application is endorsed by a consultant who is responsible for the management of the patient.”

In January last year, a report by the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) recommended that medicinal cannabis be made available to patients with very specific conditions which have not responded to other treatments:

  • Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis
  • Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy
  • Severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy

The European Parliament resolution calls for more coordination on the issue at EU level.

“And it calls for more funding into research on medicinal cannabis from the EU budget. There are currently some barriers to scientific reseach in this area including financial and regulatory,” McGuinness explained.

“While some member states allow the use of medical marijuana to treat illnesses, no cannabis-based medicines have been authorised via the European Medicines Agency (EMA),” she said.

The MEP clarified, “One cannabis-based medicine was authorised through the mutual-recognition procedure and has received marketing authorisation in 17 EU Member States for the treatment of spasticity brought on by multiple sclerosis.”

However, there is no harmonised EU-wide legislation in this area and in particular for labelling of the products.

Denmark allows for the use of medical cannabis for patients suffering from various illnesses including multiple sclerosis, HIV, epilepsy, side-effects from chemotherapy and also chronic pain and glaucoma.

Other member states permitting the use of medical cannabis include Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Poland and Spain.

But there are varying standards for the quantities of medicinal cannabis and maximum levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) concentrations.

“THC constitutes the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis, whilst CBD does not have intoxicating properties,” explained the MEP.

“Not a single EU Member States authorises the smoking of marijuana for medicinal purposes – as smoking is bad for health and combined worth tobacco has obvious health consequences,” she said.

Similarly, no country in the EU permits home growing of cannabis for medical purposes.