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BBC Health Correspondent James Westhead
"One of the oldest drugs known to man"
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Thursday, 6 April, 2000, 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK
Cannabis trials to start on patients
Cannabis is being grown in government-sponsored trials
The first clinical trials of cannabis-based medicines involving patients suffering from MS, spinal cord injury and other forms of severe pain have been given the go-ahead.

They will be carried out by GW Pharmaceuticals, the company licensed by the UK Home Office to research and develop prescription cannabis-based medicines.

If successful they could lead to cannabis-based drugs being made widely available within three years.

We hope very much that our findings will lead to significant improvements in the pain relief available for sufferers of MS and other debilitating conditions

Dr Wily Notcutt, Pain Relief Clinic, James Paget Hospital

The trials, to be conducted at a number of locations, will begin in the Pain Relief Clinic at the James Paget Hospital, Great Yarmouth, under the supervision of Dr Willy Notcutt.

Dr Notcutt said: "Our aim is to test some of the claims which have been made for the medicinal qualities of cannabis in a structured clinical research programme.

"This is an exciting moment, and we hope very much that our findings will lead to significant improvements in the pain relief available for sufferers of MS and other debilitating conditions."

One of those who will take part in the trial is Alex Ure who suffered spinal injuries.

He said: "The drugs I am taking do not get rid of the pain, the cannabis will, I hope."

Tests will be carried out using a device that sprays medicine under the tongue so that it is absorbed by the body rather than swallowed.

Dr Willy Notcutt
Dr Willy Notcutt says the trials are a milestone
Only a strictly limited number of patients will take part in the first trials.

However, it is expected that some 2000 people will eventually take part in the trials programme over the next two to three years.

Doctors or patients interested in the trials can find out more at the GW website. Click here to see full details.

Best dose

Dr Geoffrey Guy, Chairman of GW Pharmaceuticals, said the trials would help to establish the dose needed to relieve pain, and the best way of delivering the drugs to patients.

He said: "There is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that cannabis may have a number of medicinal uses, including the relief of pain and spasm in multiple sclerosis, and for pain relief in disorders such as spinal cord injury and neuralgia.

"We are now well on the way to being able to demonstrate this in a controlled clinical research environment."

GW has already completed preliminary trials in which a small group of subjects took different cannabis preparations to determine the safe range of dose.

GW has set up a database for patients who may be suitable for participation in clinical trials.

The government has indicated that if the trials are successful it would be prepared to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to allow the prescribing of a cannabis-based medicine.

GW hopes to market prescription medicines as early as 2003.

The Medical Research Council is also about to conduct trials on cannabis.

Neurologists will use different compounds of cannabis in capsule form.

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