Northern Ireland

Republic of Ireland at risk of unsafe legalisation of cannabis, top medics warn

Proposals to relax the Republic's laws on cannabis are due to come before government in coming weeks
Proposals to relax the Republic's laws on cannabis are due to come before government in coming weeks

A GROUP of doctors opposed to the relaxation of cannabis laws has warned the Republic is "sleepwalking" into unsafe legalisation of the drug.

The Cannabis Risk Alliance said new research shows a sharp rise in the number of cannabis-related cases in addiction centres and psychiatric hospitals.

The group, which has 20 specialists in psychiatry, neurology, and addiction services, along with GPs and emergency department consultants, believes that legislators are taking steps towards legalising the drug for medicinal purposes without taking into account the harms associated with the drug.

Cannabis use for recreational purposes in the Republic and the north is illegal.

But the Irish government said last year that it was considering decriminalising possession of small quantities of the drug.

The Republic's health minister Simon Harris is expected to bring proposals for the regulation of medicinal cannabis in coming weeks.

The law was changed in the NHS last year to allow GPs to prescribe medicinal cannabis in extreme cases where no other products will work.

It followed a number of high-profile campaigns by parents of severely epileptic children, including Co Tyrone woman Charlotte Caldwell, who said the drug had transformed the life of her 12-year-old son Billy, by dramatically reducing his seizures.

Last July, seven-year-old Sophia Gibson from Newtownards, who also suffers from a devastating form of epilepsy, became the first person to be granted a long-term licence for the use of medicinal cannabis in the UK under a new expert panel system

Opposition to a change in legislation in the south was outlined by the senior medics in a letter to the Irish Times yesterday.

Psychiatrist Dr Bobby Smyth, of Trinity College Dublin. said: "Cannabis is increasingly perceived to be a harmless drug, whereas in reality it is the main drug causing new addiction-related and psychiatric cases presenting in Ireland today.

"We are gravely concerned that the Government is ploughing ahead without objectively considering the full effects of cannabis or even properly communicating the risks posed by the drug to society at large."

Dr Smyth added that he believed global multinationals are influencing the government's response to an issue which deserves more scrutiny.

"The Government is sleepwalking into supporting the use of so-called 'medicinal' cannabis while ignoring the extensive evidence of its harms. This gives the perception that the drug is harmless and gives the wrong message to young people," he said.

Dr Smyth admitted that, while there was preliminary evidence that some products containing cannabinoids had medical benefits in a very limited number of conditions, but said this had been distorted to imply that the cannabis plant in its entirety could be considered as a medicine.