A pilot programme allowing access to cannabis-based products for medical use has been launched by the Minister for Health.

Legislation giving the go ahead for the Medical Cannabis Access Programme to operate in this country was signed by Simon Harris today.

Work on the establishment of the programme was initiated two years ago, following an examination by the Health Products Regulatory Authority.

It suggested that cannabis-based products be made available to some patients with multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, and people suffering nausea in chemotherapy.

Currently, there are no medical cannabis products available in Ireland and this programme will operate on a pilot basis for five years.

The legislation means that commercial operators whose cannabis products meet the specified requirements can now supply products to the Irish market.

The programme makes it possible for a medical consultant to prescribe a cannabis-based treatment in some cases where patients fail to respond to standard treatment.

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Mr Harris described today as a "significant milestone".

He said the aim of the programme "is to facilitate compassionate access to cannabis for medical reasons, where conventional treatment has failed".