THE Government is "sleepwalking" into the unsafe legalisation of cannabis, a group of senior doctors has warned.
The Cannabis Risk Alliance claims increasingly relaxed attitudes towards cannabis are "gaining ground" among legislators, despite new research showing a sharp rise in the number of cannabis-related cases in addiction centres and psychiatric hospitals.
The group, which includes 20 specialists in psychiatry, neurology, and addiction services, along with GPs and emergency department consultants, believes the Government is 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 Ireland is illegal. But the Government said last year that it was considering decriminalising possession of small quantities of the drug.
Health Minister Simon Harris is expected to bring proposals for the regulation of medicinal cannabis to Cabinet in coming weeks.
It follows a high-profile campaign by a Cork mother who fought for her daughter to have access to medicinal cannabis.
Vera Twomey has said that she was “devastated” to read the comments of doctors.
Ms Twomey is calling for a balanced approach to the issue adding that she had to fight for two years to get medicinal cannabis for her daughter Ava who has severe epilepsy.
“She’s at school today, she’s thriving, she hasn’t been admitted to hospital in two years. Now she’s having a life free of pain," said Vera.
It was very “very distressing” to see doctors “coming out and talking about Trojan horses,” she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.
However, 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.
"We call on the Government to initiate an urgent and unbiased examination of the evidence of escalating cannabis use and cannabis-related health harms in Ireland, as well as a comprehensive public education campaign to counter the pro-cannabis propaganda which has gone unchallenged for the past eight years."
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.
"The health benefits of cannabis have been grossly overstated and, in our view, are comprehensively outweighed by its negative effects," he said.
"We have seen from countries abroad that medicinal legislation has been an effective 'Trojan horse' for full legalisation and commercialisation."