By Giles Elgood
LONDON, April 7 (Reuters) - Britain's medical authorities have authorised the first clinical trials of cannabis-based medicines for patients with multiple sclerosis and other conditions, a British drug company said on Thursday.
Patients with neurologic diseases such as MS have been calling for a pain-relieving cannabis medicine for years and many have broken the law by buying the drug from street dealers.
The company running the trials, GW Pharmaceuticals, believes that the trials are the first of their kind in the world. It said that if they are successful, the British government had indicated that it would change the law banning possession of cannabis, and that prescription drugs could be marketed as early as 2003.
Geoffrey Guy, chairman of GW Pharmaceuticals, said in a statement that the trials marked "a highly significant point in the development of cannabis-based medicines."
The trials will start shortly at the Pain Relief Clinic at the James Paget Hospital, Great Yarmouth, in eastern England, under the supervision of Dr. Willy Notcutt. "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," Dr. Notcutt said.
Patients will take different formulations of cannabis-based medicines using devices that spray them under the tongue and allow them to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
About 2,000 patients will take part in the trials, details of which can be found on the website www.medicinal-cannabis.org.
Guy said that there was considerable evidence to suggest that cannabis may have other medical uses in addition to pain relief for MS sufferers. "We are now well on the way to demonstrating this in a controlled clinical research environment," he said.
GW Pharmaceuticals has been growing cannabis in secure, computer-controlled
glasshouses in southern England under a license from the British Home Office