Majority of Irish Physicians Approve of Cannabis as MS Treatment, Survey Finds

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by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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Cannabis and multiple sclerosis

Most Irish general practitioners (GPs) are against decriminalizing cannabis use, but many, especially those over age 50, say it can be useful for treating multiple sclerosis (MS) and other medical conditions, according to a recent survey.

The results are detailed in the study, “Irish general practitioner attitudes toward decriminalisation and medical use of cannabis: results from a national survey,” published in the Harm Reduction Journal.

Debate on decriminalizing cannabis and its medical use is raging in Ireland. Allowing its use for medical purposes would involve physicians prescribing it, so researchers at Waterford Institute of Technology performed a survey to assess support for therapeutic cannabis.

A majority of those surveyed (56.8%) did not support decriminalization. Those who did were often older — only 29% of GPs younger than 50 said they would agree with the move. Older GPs were also more supportive of therapeutic cannabis.

There was little difference by age in attitudes about using cannabis to manage MS. A majority (92.4% of those younger than 50 and 87.8% of those older) said it could play a role in treatment.

Male GPs were more positive about the drug and its medical usefulness, with a significantly higher percentage (40.6% male, 15% female) saying cannabis should be decriminalized.

Overall, 67.3% of male GPs said cannabis could have a role in MS treatment, compared to 57.5% of their female counterparts. The difference was not statistically significant.

The level of addiction treatment training seemed to factor into the physicians’ views. Fewer GPs with level 1 training (limited addiction training) agreed or strongly agreed that cannabis should be legalized for medical use, compared to GPs without such training. Those with the training were also less apt to say cannabis can have a role in managing MS.

In contrast, there was little difference in the thinking of GPs with more advanced, level 2 training and those without it. Physicians from both groups were generally supportive of medical cannabis, with 90.3% of untrained GPs and 93.7% of trained ones saying it can play a part in treating MS.

“The majority of Irish GPs do not support the present Irish governmental drug policy of decriminalisation of cannabis but do support the legalisation of cannabis for therapeutic purposes,” the team concluded. “Male GPs and those with higher levels of addiction training are more likely to support a more liberal drug policy approach to cannabis for personal use. … Ongoing research into the health and other effects of drug policy changes on cannabis use is required.”

The timing of the study coincided with the publication of an extensive U.S. report, showing that cannabis-related compounds may have a role in treating MS-related spasticity.

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