In an interview with radio station Antena 1, Adalberto Campos Fernandes said it would be possible to rigorously introduce cannabis as a treatment option now that bills put forward by the Left Bloc (BE) and PAN parties will be debated by the parliamentary Health Committee.
A day after the issue was discussed in parliament, the minister said he agreed with the use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes, but not in its smoked form, thus agreeing with the position put forward by the Portuguese Medical Association.
"I agree in that it should be regulated by the National Drug Authority, with a rigorous scientific framework and very powerful pharmacovigilance systems," he said.
On Thursday, the BE and PAN bills for the medical use of marijuana were sent to the parliamentary Health Committee, without being voted on.
The Medical Association has recognised that there is strong evidence of the effectiveness of marijuana, or cannabis, for some therapeutic uses, but warns that its prescription should be exclusively medical as a medicine and not in the smoked form.
An opinion from the National Council for Medicinal Product Policy allows for the potential use of cannabis in some cases, such as in relieving chronic pain in adults, to relieve nausea in cancer patients, for multiple sclerosis and anxiety.
The opinion nevertheless indicates that the use of cannabis or cannabinoids as a medicinal product for human use should be subject to approval by the health regulatory bodies, such as the National or European Medicinal Products Authority.
The Medical Association also warns that because of its potential toxicity, the prescription of cannabis should be exclusively medical and with specific regulation, as is the case with morphine derivatives, for example.
The opinion points to concrete challenges in the use of cannabis for medical purposes, especially in relation to direct consumption of the cannabis plant, noting that "no European country currently authorises cannabis that is smoked for medical purposes."
Concerning the safety of the use of cannabis, the opinion points to an association between its consumption and the development of addiction, schizophrenia and other psychoses, as well as aggravation of respiratory difficulties.
The Association said there is strong evidence for the effectivness of cannabis in treating chronic pain, as an anti-emetic (anti-vomiting) in cancer treatment, in the treatment of multiple sclerosis and for controlling anxiety.
There is also moderate evidence on the effective use of cannabis in improving sleep in people with obstructive sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, anorexia caused by cancer, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The report notes however, that there is no evidence to establish the effectiveness of cannabis in cancer treatment, irritable bowel symptoms, epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson's disease or schizophrenia, despite studies in these areas.