Monday December 13 9:16 AM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - A leading British research group announced plans on Monday to fund trials into the medical benefits of cannabis for patients with multiple sclerosis.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) said it had awarded a grant of $1.5 million to Dr. John Zajicek, of Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, for the three-year trials.
``We hope the study will provide definite scientific evidence about whether or not taking cannabis is helpful to people with MS,'' Zajicek said in a statement.
Sufferers from diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), which attacks the central nervous system, have been calling for a pain-relieving cannabis medicine for years and many have broken the law by buying the drug from street dealers.
A small group of volunteers had been legally taking cannabis under clinical conditions in order to determine the best dose.
GW Pharmaceuticals, the British drug company running the trials, says it hopes to have a cannabis-based medicine ready to be prescribed by doctors within three or four years.
If its trials are successful, the Home Office is expected to change the law to allow prescription of cannabis-based medicine.
The new MS study will involve 660 patients from across the country. Each patient will be randomly selected to receive capsules of either cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol, a constituent of cannabis, or a placebo.
MS is an auto-immune disease in which the body's own immune system attacks and destroys a sheath which protects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It affects about one million people worldwide and 85,000 people in Britain.
There is no cure. The most common treatment is injections with beta-interferon.