Apr 18 2003
By Helen Clarke
A CONTROVERSIAL trial conducted in Liverpool could pave the way to cannabis being prescribed on the NHS.
Walton Centre for Neurology & Neurosurgery in Fazakerley is the world's first centre to test the effects of the drug on multiple sclerosis sufferers.
Its findings have proved that the drug, which is administered in spray form, does help relieve nerve pain.
The research has now been sent to the Medicines Control Agency to see if cannabis should be licensed.
A government body will then decide whether the drug should be available to everyone through the NHS.
People would be able to get hold of cannabis-based medicines on prescription from their GP.
Dr Carolyn Young, consultant neurologist at the Walton centre, said today: "We are the only place in the world to have performed a clinical trial into the effects of cannabis spray on pain.
"The results have been pretty compelling. The people who were on the active treatment experienced a high loss of nerve pain on a number of scales. They also experienced better sleep."
More than 60 multiple sclerosis sufferers being treated at the Centre were involved in the trial.
For the first five weeks, one group was given the spray to see if it helped to alleviate excruciating nerve pain and another batch was given a dummy drug.
Following the positive results from the group using the spray, the real cannabis-based medicine was then given to all 66 people involved in the trial who have home office approval to take the drug.
If the drug is approved for use they will be given doses of the proper cannabis-based spray indefinitely.
MS is a debilitating disease which causes involuntary shaking, speech defects and spasticity in young and middle-aged adults.
The research is sponsored by GW Pharmaceuticals.
Cannabis trials have been taking place at other centres across the UK to see if the drug can help stop muscle spasms. This research has also been sent to the MCA.
Dr Young has been leading the research to test cannabis sprays and its affect on MS sufferers.
Volunteers on the trial were selected from patients treated at the Walton centre from across Merseyside, North Wales and Cheshire.
They must pass medical tests to make sure it is safe for them to take the drug and priority is given to those who suffer particularly severe pain.
All patients have been given a Home Office ID card, so that if they are arrested they can explain the presence of cannabis in their bloodstreams.
Dr Young said: "We are the only centre to look at nerve pain specifically in MS sufferers. It's the sort of pain you have if you have toothache or sciatica. It's very, very painful.
"People with MS experience it quite frequently and use descriptive terms such as burning pain, a pins and needles pain or stabbing pains across the body, face, arms and legs.
"It is difficult to treat with conventional medication and there has been a major research interest in developing better forms of treatment.
"The results of the study have found a very big difference in favour of cannabis spray for relieving pain and also improving sleep.
"They have got positive results from some of the other studies but not quite as definitive as the Liverpool study.
"The Medicines Control Agency will now scrutinise the data and do their own internal checks and audits into the quality of the data to see if they will license the drug."
Dr Young said: "We hope to know more at the end of the year. I wouldn't
like to say whether it should or shouldn't be approved. My part in this
is to make sure the information to the MCA to consider is as high a quality
and accurate as it can be."
© Copyright 2003, Trinity Mirror Plc