The first medicinal cannabis product provided through the HSE will be available to patients from next month, it has been confirmed.
The HSE said that CannEpil, a cannabidiol (CBD) based medication, is to be made available during October as part of its Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP).
It comes after the Department of Health made the taking of cannabis through a medicine part of its health service earlier this year.
It is available to a limited number of patients and can be accessed with the correct prescription from a consultant.
Shaun Flanagan, the HSE’s assistant national director of primary care reimbursement services, said it expects one product, CannEpil, will become available during October.
“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,” Mr Flanagan told the Oireachtas health committee.
In Ireland, cannabis is a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Acts.
In January, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly secured funding for the programme and outlined how patients would access medicinal cannabis through the HSE.
Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan questioned whether the system is “sufficiently firewalled” to prevent the medicine from falling into the “wrong hands” and would be strictly for medicinal purposes.
Lorraine Nolan, chief executive of Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) said they are satisfied that the system is line with the recommendations it made in 2017.
“In the first instance these MCAP products are not medicines in the conventional sense that you and I would know medicine,” Ms Nolan said.
“This is a very limited form of access for the three specified conditions but what’s really important in this is a cascade in terms of the progression to treatment on to the MCAP.
“These patients have to have exhausted all of the available options.
“In that context, I think there are different considerations regarding benefit and risk and we are satisfied with the programme.
“Every patient that is put onto the MCAP programme 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 onto the programme, 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.
“There is a monitoring plan for the patient, and they are monitored at regular intervals to ensure that those improvements are actually being realised.
“There’s also the overriding principle that anybody who starts on one of these products starts low and goes slow, so the doses starts at the lowest level and then it’s worked upwards.”
Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny, who has long campaigned for the use of medicinal cannabis in Ireland, said: “The long process to here has been frustrating for people.
“People will be scratching their head and saying: ‘Why has this taken so long for this process to begin?’
“The good news is that the process is beginning in a few weeks under prescription.”