Patients are set to get “life-changing” medical cannabis before Christmas thanks to the approval of two products for sale here.
Campaigners and patients criticised the slow progress of the roll-out of medical cannabis which has forced many sufferers to purchase the product on the black market or travel abroad for the drug.
However, the Health Products Regulatory Authority has now paved the way for those suffering with multiple sclerosis (MS), the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and those with treatment-resistant epilepsy to receive the drugs within a matter of weeks.
Deborah McQuillan, whose 15-year-old daughter Abigail, has between four and 12 epileptic seizures each night, said the drug will provide hope to many.
“Every night I put my child to sleep and it should be a safe place for her, but it becomes the most dangerous place she could be,” she said.
Although Health Minister Simon Harris signed legislation in June to provide medicinal cannabis to patients who have not responded to standard treatments, it has taken until now to sanction specific products.
Two drug companies — Aurora Cannabis Enterprises and MGC Pharmaceuticals — have received approval from the Irish authorities for their pharmaceutical grade CBD oil drops. The products have now been added to a regulatory schedule by Mr Harris enabling importation and prescribing.
Ms McQuillan said: “It’s exciting. This is only the beginning. We needed this yesterday, all of the families, those suffering with cancer and on chemotherapy, we all needed this yesterday.”
She said Abigail was six years old when she began to have seizures and has since exhausted all treatments, including drug options, a simulator implant device, and specific diets.
However, she continues to get multiple seizures each day. The family have been using over-the-counter low-dose CBD oil for more than a year, which has been effective at preventing seizures during the day meaning the teenager can return to school on a regular basis.
“Out of all of Abigail’s treatments over the past 10 years, the CBD oil has been the best,” said Ms McQuillan. She now hopes the prescribed higher-strength product will provide greater relief.
However, the availability of medical cannabis will still be restricted to the three groups of patients who are included in Medical Cannabis Access Programme, which will run on a pilot basis for five years. Campaigners have been fighting to have others, including those suffering from chronic pain, included.
Solidarity-PBP TD Gino Kenny welcomed the approval of the two cannabis products but called on Mr Harris to look at expanding the number of people who qualify for the medication.
“It has been a very protracted number of years but this is a significant step,” said Mr Kenny.
The drugs will not be readily available and instead will only be imported for named patients once they are prescribed by a consultant. This process could take between two and six weeks.
Mr Kenny said he will continue to fight to change the prescribing of medical cannabis to a GP-led service as many public patients can wait long periods to see a consultant and cannot afford private health care.
The TD warned that many people who do not qualify may still resort to the black market and will self-medicate.
However, he said it will provide relief for more than 30 individual patients who have been granted a ministerial licence for cannabis for medical purposes.
Up until now, these individuals had to travel to the Hague to purchase the drug.
Shane Morris, chief product officer at Aurora, said the company will continue to work with campaigners and agencies to make it available to a wider group of people.