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New study evaluates evidence on efficacy and safety of prescribed medicinal cannabis

The Health Research Board has published a comprehensive review of existing evidence on the clinical efficacy and safety of medicinal cannabis for a wide range of health conditions.

Illustration of medicinal products

The study was conducted to inform a Department of Health review of the current Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP). It found evidence to support the use of prescribed medicinal cannabis for certain conditions for which it is currently approved in Ireland, such as nausea and vomiting in cancer and spasticity in multiple sclerosis. There was also evidence of a significant benefit for neuropathic or nerve pain, which can occur with conditions such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes or spinal cord injury.

For most other conditions, including anxiety and pain in conditions such as cancer, rheumatic diseases and fibromyalgia, there is no conclusive evidence to confirm the efficacy of prescribed medicinal cannabis.

Regarding the safety of prescribed medicinal cannabis, the review found that although serious adverse events do not appear to be common, there is some evidence that some side effects such as dizziness, dry mouth, sedation, and headache can occur. Mixed evidence was found, however, on the likelihood of other adverse events such as drowsiness, nausea, and any psychiatric disorder adverse events.  

Commenting on the findings, HRB Chief Executive Dr Mairead O’Driscoll said:

It is essential that healthcare policy is informed by the latest evidence, including in areas where existing research is not sufficiently developed to draw robust conclusions. By conducting this kind of review over time, the HRB can continue to provide policy makers with evidence to inform their decisions as research evolves.

Dr Kathryn Lambe, Research Officer at the HRB and lead author of the report, says:

“Our review indicates there is some evidence to support the use of prescribed medicinal cannabis in conditions such as nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, spasticity in multiple sclerosis, and managing neuropathic pain. However, for most other outcomes, the findings were inconsistent at best. This review will help inform decision making in relation to future policy on the use of prescribed medicinal cannabis along with input from patient groups, clinicians, and service planners.”

Covering research conducted over the last 30 years on the use of prescribed medicinal cannabis by adult patients only, the study evaluated evidence across a number of medical conditions: ranging from cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatic diseases, to pain, mental health and neuropsychological conditions. It focused on evidence related to prescribed medicinal cannabis containing natural or synthetic cannabidiol (CBD) or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or their derivatives.

ENDS

The full report is available to download here. For further information or to organise interviews with experts, please contact:

Anna Dunne, Communications Officer, Health Research Board

m +353 85 859 0339  e  adunne@hrb.ie

NOTE TO EDITORS

About the Medicinal Cannabis Access Programme

The Medical Cannabis Access Programme (MCAP) enables a consultant to prescribe a cannabis-based treatment for a patient under their care for a small number of conditions, where the patient has not responded to standard treatments. The conditions included in the MCAP are spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis, intractable nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, or severe, refractory (treatment-resistant) epilepsy.

The cannabis-based products included under the MCAP are produced in line with good manufacturing practice and have been assessed by the Health Product Regulatory Authority as being suitable for medical use. These products include CBD oil drops, oral solutions, and cannabis flower.

About the Health Research Board

The Health Research Board is Ireland’s lead funding agency supporting innovative health research and delivering data and evidence that improves people’s health and patient care. We are committed to putting people first, and ensuring data and evidence are used in policy and practice to overcome health challenges, advance health systems, and benefit society and economy.