3.10 p.m. ET (2010 GMT) November 16, 1999 By Giles Elgood
LONDON - A British drug company said on Tuesday it hoped to have a cannabis-based medicine ready to be prescribed by doctors within three or four years.
Sufferers from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, 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.
GW Pharmaceuticals said it was making progress in clinical studies with cannabis-based medicines.
A small group of volunteers had been taking cannabis under clinical conditions in order to determine the best dose. Some had taken cannabis lozenges which dissolve under the tongue while others used an inhaler.
Dr Geoffrey Guy, chairman of GW Pharmaceuticals, said his company had carried out its first studies in which human subjects were given standardised extracts of cannabis.
"I am pleased to report that the progress of our development programme from the laboratory to human clinical dosing has proceeded without problems," he added in a statement.
Guy said there was evidence that cannabis could relieve pain in multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and neuralgia. His company would be evaluating these uses in some 2,000 patients over the next two or three years.
"Subject to the necessary regulatory approvals, we hope to have a cannabis-based medicine available for prescription by doctors within three to four years," Guy said.
GW Pharmaceuticals is licensed by the British Home Office (Interior Ministry) to grow, possess and supply cannabis for medical research.
If trials are successful, the Home Office will change the law to allow prescription of cannabis-based medicines, the company statement said.
GW has been growing cannabis in secure, computer controlled glasshouses in the south of England.
Although the plants are the same as those grown for recreational use - cannabis sativa - the trials are designed to maximise the drug's analgesic, or pain relieving, effect rather than to make subjects so high that they do not care about the pain.