When it comes to healthcare, Ireland hasn’t always had the best track record in providing care for its people. So when the Medical Cannabis Access Program was introduced in 2019, it was a chance to right the wrongs and introduce a system that worked more effectively.
However, it’s not been the case as the MCAP has been plagued with difficulties from the start. One of the major issues with MCAP is the restrictive list of conditions it covers.
I know this first hand as an Irish person living in Nottingham, England with a medical cannabis prescription for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). A condition that is not recognised under MCAP which means my options for access are limited if I was to move home. In short, moving home would cost me my medicine.
Medical cannabis has worked for me where other HSE-prescribed medications failed. ADHD is a condition that means I can’t regulate my attention so I’m either unable to focus or I am hyper-invested in something. That hyperactivity means no sleep or rest which is where cannabis helps.
Another issue I have is that travel between Ireland and England in terms of medical cannabis has not been easy. My family is still back in West Cork so I’m often back and forth but I know it means no cannabis. It should be as simple as emailing airports and then traveling with proof of prescription but it has never been that easy.
I am required to keep my cannabis in the original prescription pot when traveling so if I do take the risk then I could face having all of my expensive medicine confiscated. I also risk arrest so I can’t afford to take that chance. I’ve tried emailing the usual suspects - Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Frank Feighan but my only reply has to been to tell me that I need to get an Irish doctor to prescribe me under the ministerial license.
Now, the issue with that is that I have been gone for ten years so I don’t even have a bank account in the country let alone a cannabis-friendly prescriber who is sympathetic to my needs. My alternative is to switch to the legacy market which can be unsafe and I no longer have contacts there either.
I’m not alone in being stuck in another country away from family. As more European countries look to legalise or decriminalise, more and more Irish people are looking abroad for access.
Adrienne Lynch moved to Spain over a year ago after growing tired of the difficulties surrounding access. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia which she treats with cannabis.
“A lot of my money went on the illegal market because, at that point, I couldn’t eat without cannabis. My stomach muscles and cardia sphincter muscle doesn’t work properly and when it spasms, the food won’t go in or it comes back up which is painful,” she said.
“Cannabis was the only thing that was helping with that. I need to be able to eat and function so I can look after my child. I couldn’t do that in Ireland as I don’t feel safe and it's not great. You don’t know what you are getting or if it’s sprayed or not.”
Immediately, Adrienne noticed that access was easier in Spain although not as cheap as she had been hoping.
“The access here is much easier but it can be a challenge to locate clubs. Once you find the club and have an ID then you have access and choices. Although it’s not as cheap as people think and it can be expensive in the club,” she explained.
“I go to vendors here so I’m still participating in the illegal market but it's different. I know the growers and there is a community here where it is more open.”
Adrienne has not returned home yet since she moved. She dreads the thought of returning because it will force her back into the Irish illegal market.
“I haven’t gone home yet and one of the reasons is although I have contacts, it’s going to cost me. It’s also the awkwardness of getting to the place where it is compared to the service here that will drive and drop to my door.”
She added: “I put off going to visit because what am I supposed to do if I have a flare-up before I go or get sick while I’m there? Doctors won’t help me or they will give me Pharma-medication that I don’t take.”
Adrienne is not planning to return to Ireland any time soon. Like me, the ease of access abroad has changed her health for the better.
“There isn’t anything that would bring me back to Ireland for so many reasons but cannabis is a big one. There are worse places with less access but Ireland feels so hostile these days as so few people are cared for. It’s heartbreaking to think about not going back to something I would have called my home at one point.”