Friday, 12 April, 2002, 23:05 GMT 00:05 UK
Trials of cannabis-based medicines are to be extended to see if the drug is effective at reducing pain in a wider range of conditions.
GW Pharmaceuticals, based in Salisbury, Wiltshire, is already looking at whether cannabis-based medicines reduce three types of pain, including general pain associated with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Four new trials will be established to look at how effective the medicines are in treating:-
Altogether, around 600 patients from around the UK will be involved in the seven trials of the medicines, which are administered via an under-the-tongue spray
Last October the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, said cannabis may be legalised for medicinal use.
GW Pharmaceuticals aims to seek regulatory approval from the Medicines Control Agency for its medications in 2003.
A spokesman for GW Pharmaceuticals explained why the company was now focussing on these four new areas of research.
"What we were finding was that the pain in MS was seriously disrupting sleep patterns.
"There were people who hadn't had a decent night's sleep for a decade or more.
"We are also looking at allodynia. In the past, people have been put on antidepressants, which its transpired have some effect, but they have a large number of side-effects too."
In addition to the other main areas of research into spinal cord pain and nerve pain in MS, the company is also carrying out early research into using cannabis-based medicines to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
GW Pharmaceuticals' spokesman added: "We are going deeper and wider into existing areas of research, such as the medicines' effect on MS."
Chris Jones, Chief Executive of the MS Trust welcomed the extension of the company's trials: "Many of the 85,000 people with MS in Britain suffer from symptoms such as muscle stiffness, spasms (spasticity), pain and sleep disturbance.
"For many of these people, there is anecdotal evidence that suggests cannabis has provided significant symptom relief, seemingly without side-effects.
"We therefore welcome any new research into possible licensed cannabis based medicines."