The Republic of Ireland will see the first medicinal cannabis product provided to patients through the Health Services Executive (HSE) from next month.

CannEpil, a phytocannabinoid product developed for the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy by MGC Pharma, is expected to become available through the HSE in October as part of its Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP).

The medication will be available to a limited number of patients who will need a correct prescription from a consultant. The move has been made after the Department of Health made medicinal cannabis part of its health service earlier this year.

HSE’s assistant national director of primary care reimbursement services Shaun Flanagan told the Oireachtas health committee a Tilray product was likely to be next. He said: “The suppliers of the second product, Tilray oral solutions, have indicated their intention to supply to the Irish market but to date have not confirmed when the product will be available.” 

Patients in Ireland can only access medicinal cannabis if they have spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy or severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy. Patients need to have exhausted other available options. 

Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) chief executive Lorraine Nolan said the body is satisfied that the system is in line with recommendations it made in 2017.

She said: “In the first instance these MCAP products are not medicines in the conventional sense that you and I would know medicine.

“Every patient that is put on to the MCAP program has to be initiated by a consultant, and the enrolment process has been outlined for each patient. Then there is a treatment programme that has to be put into their medical record.

“That really sets out the background to the decision to introduce them on to the program, the product that they’re going to use and their dosage. What’s really important here as well is that there is an agreement on what the expected outcome should be in terms of improvements.”

Patients will also be monitored and started on a low dose that is then worked upwards.

In Ireland, cannabis is still a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Acts.

Hannah Adler

Hannah is a communications professional and early-career researcher in the disciplines of health communication and health sociology. She is a PhD student at Griffith University currently writing a...