Experts warn of safety fear as patients are given the right to use medicinal cannabis
Experts have stressed there are many "unknowns" around the safety of medicinal cannabis despite the fact patients with specified conditions will be able to access it later this year.
Health Minister Simon Harris is to proceed with the legislation and regulations which would allow a "compassionate access" programme. Experts have stressed, however, there are still questions around the safety, quality and effectiveness of the products.
The specified medical conditions are:
Spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis;
Intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy;
Epilepsy which is resistant to treatments.
The breakthrough emerged following a report from the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) .
It was asked to carry out a scientific assessment of its therapeutic use by the minister.
It followed pressure from patients and personal testimonies of gaining relief from symptoms including pain and seizures.
"I understand this is a matter of great concern to many patients, to many colleagues in the Oireachtas and to members of the general public who have contacted me," Mr Harris said.
"I believe this report marks a significant milestone in developing policy in this area. This is something I am eager to progress but I am also obligated to proceed on the basis of the best clinical advice."
Prof Tony O'Brien, a consultant in palliative medicine who chaired the group, said that making it available for a limited number of conditions would be a significant first step that recognised patient need.
It would also provide patient protection with oversight from consultants. The legislation should also allow for a registry to be set up to collect medical information and provide insight into the future use of cannabis products for medical purposes.
Cannabis has potential therapeutic benefits, but there is a need for robust evidence to be generated through clinical research in patients.
The group looked at the relevant scientific reviews and publications available worldwide, as well as the international approaches to cannabis for medical use.
There is limited scientific data available, the report added.
"The safety of cannabis as a medical treatment is also not well characterised. For these reasons, and because most cannabis products available under international access schemes do not meet pharmaceutical quality standards, it is not possible to authorise such products as medicines," it said.
HPRA chief executive Dr Lorraine Nolan said the review confirmed "the many unknowns around the use of cannabis for medical purposes". The safety, quality and effectiveness of these products could not be guaranteed, she added.