A symposium in Limerick has heard that the medical cannabis access programme here is too restrictive and needs to be extended to include people who suffer with chronic pain.

Legislation passed last July allows a Consultant doctor to prescribe medicinal cannabis, but it is restricted to just three conditions.

24 people in Ireland are now being prescribed medicinal cannabis, but it only includes those suffering from multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and post chemotherapy sickness.

Doctors, patients and advocates attending the symposium at the University of Limerick today called for its use to be expanded, particularly for those suffering long-term pain.

Alicia Maher, a PHD student at the University of Limerick,  who is researching the regulation of the drug, and who has suffered chronic pain herself for the past 13 years, said the biggest challenge now that the medicinal cannabis law has been passed, is widening access to it, particularly for those suffering long-term pain symptoms. 

She said in the USA where medicinal cannabis is available in half of the states, those suffering from chronic pain account for 65% of the patients who use it to control and get relief from their symptoms.

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Dr Garrett McGovern, a GP at the Priority Clinic in Dundrum in Dublin said one of the biggest problems facing patients in this country is chronic pain. He said many people are on many different medications, many addictive and with very serious side effects. 

He said a lot of people are getting symptom relief from medicinal cannabis which they have to secure illegally.

"I think we need to expand the availability of medicinal cannabis so people with chronic pain can access it", he said.

Prof David Finn from the Pharmacology and centre for pain research based at NUIG, who addressed the symposium, said there is a growing body of evidence to show that use of cannabis based medicine for pain control has potential.

He said for a sub-section of patients with chronic pain, particularly those who suffer neuropathic pain which is associated with damage to the nerves, and for cancer pain, there could be some basis for prescribing cannabis based medication, properly managed and supervised under the appropriate medical personnel.

He also added that over 600 of the world's top experts in this area are due to come to a major international conference on this issue to be held in Galway in July 2020.