'Sourcing cannabis is not like finding moondust,' says Limerick doctor

 Doctors and deputies say it will be safer to legalise cannabis for medicinal use

Anne Sheridan

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Anne Sheridan

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anne.sheridan@limerickleader.ie

'Sourcing cannabis is not like finding moondust,' says Limerick doctor

Dr Ray O’Connor, University of Limerick

A LIMERICK doctor has urged that legalising cannabis for medicinal purposes will be much safer than patients sourcing illegal cannabis on the street to relieve chronic health conditions.

Dr Ray O’Connor, a senior research fellow in the Graduate Entry Medical School in the University of Limerick, said that he is broadly supportive of the proposed legislation, but only under strict regulations. 

“It won’t be a case of walking into a pharmacy and getting six bags of cannabis and ‘Happy days’. It will be given for specific purposes for specific patients, and will need to be strictly monitored to ensure that it is not abused,” said the adjunct senior clinical lecturer.

He has argued that illegal cannabis is widely available to those who seek it, and said in the case of medical need, legislation will help ensure that patients receive a safer product. “In legalising cannabis you will have standardisation and security of source.

“Go into any pub on any night and I defy you not to smell cannabis somewhere. It is not like sourcing moondust. It is all over the place – the same with benzos [benzodiazepines].

“A person buying illegal cannabis [resin] on the street, for their own medical use, could be smoking or inhaling a substance that is mixed with rat poison, and which could have far greater implications for their health, in harming their lungs, for instance, and be associated with chronic bronchitis. People don’t know what exactly they are buying,” said Dr O’Connor.

At a recent Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health, Fine Gael deputy Kate O’Connell, a practicing pharmacist in Dublin, said that proposals to legalise medicinal cannabis are “madness” and “verging on the immoral”.

Dr O’Connor said that he did not agree with this view, describing the language as “emotive”.

“I wouldn’t agree with that statement. I have had a sufficient number of patients who have had chronic pain and other difficulties where some of them have sourced cannabis themselves,” said Dr O’Connor, who also works with Shannondoc, an out-of-hours medical care service in the Mid-West.

He said some patients, including those who have epilepsy, have reported improved health conditions, but he said it is very difficult to gauge whether it’s a direct result of cannabis. 

“Whether this was a placebo effect or not, I do not know, which is why this area needs supervision. There are potential pitfalls, which is why we need to be awfully careful.

“A lot of drugs have been introduced, like benzos, or codeine, on the basis that they did no harm. It was a disaster waiting to happen, but I think we are wiser now.”

A GP for nearly 30 years, he said that there are certain medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, for which cannabis appears to be beneficial, though medical research to date has been the source of controversy and the results have not been conclusive.

Dr O’Connor highlighted that other legal drugs have given rise to addiction, especially benzodiazepines, or relaxants, and alcohol, describing addictions to those drugs in Limerick as “massive”.

“We already use drugs for medical purposes that have the potential for addiction and are available on the street, such as morphine for people with terminal illness,” he added.

He said cannabis may prove helpful for those in palliative care, or others facing severe chronic illness, and in those circumstances medicinal cannabis would also represent a “compassionate” treatment.

The Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016, brought by People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny, was passed by the the Dáil in December after the Government said it would not oppose it.

It proposes the establishment of a “cannabis regulation authority” to provide for the licensing of the supply of cannabis for medicinal use.

A health food store in Limerick – Eats of Eden on Thomas Street – has reportedly seen sales of its cannabis oil products “skyrocket” in recent months, following calls for psychoactive cannabis products to be legalised for medicinal purposes.

Their cannabis oil products do not contain THC – tetrahydrocannabinol – the psychoactive compound found in illegal cannabis herb and resin.

Proprietor Cillin Cleere said they have sold out and been restocked on numerous occasions. “The reaction has been extremely positive. We have had lots of interest from people of all ages coming into the shop to enquire about it,” he said.

Fianna Fail deputy Niall Collins said that he has no issue with the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes and would keep an “open mind” in relation to total decriminalisation of the drug, but “would need to be convinced of it.”

Sinn Fein deputy Maurice Quinlivan said that “criminalising cannabis use is ridiculous”, saying the “real problem is with heroin and benzos.” Labour deputy Jan O’Sullivan is also supportive of the Bill, as is Fianna Fail deputy Willie O’Dea, though said he would be “extremely nervous” if it was totally decriminalised.