11:00 - 28 November 2002
By Colleen Smith
A former Torquay head teacher who took part in the world's biggest clinical trials of cannabis wants the drug to be legalised for medical use.
Paul Willmott was one of 25 multiple sclerosis patients from South Devon taking part in the trials.
Early feedback to researchers in Plymouth is that he is one of many patients in the "blind" trials who believed that they were taking cannabis and that the drug dramatically helped reduce the symptoms of the chronic condition.
Mr Willmott retired as head teacher of Queensway Roman Catholic Primary School in 2000, 10 years after being diagnosed with the debilitating disease.
He said: "Since my time on the trial finished I have been tempted to take cannabis, but I have told myself that I don't want to go down that road.
"I was part of a delegation from the MS Society which went to the House of Commons in July and I was assured by MPs that cannabis will almost certainly be cleared for medicinal use next year.
"I certainly found that I was better when I was taking the little brown capsules during the year on the trial.
"Since I stopped I am not being prescribed any alternative medication - and that's the point.
"Cannabis is a relatively cheap drug and if it works I don't see any reason why it should not be properly given for medicinal use.
"I have spoken to so many fellow MS patients who have found benefit from taking cannabis and it certainly did me a lot of good."
Since retiring from teaching at the age of 55, the disease has progressed.
He said: "I now walk with a stick and I know that my mobility is deteriorating, but I am grateful for all that I do have."
Mr Willmott was one of 660 patients worldwide taking part in the £1 million research project.
Thirty-three medical centres around the world are contributing to the Plymouth-based study by Dr John Zajicek of the Peninsula Medical School. The work is funded by the Medical Research Council which has contributed more than £1 million.
The research is divided into five groups of patients.
Some are taking capsules containing the whole cannabis; others are being given THC, an active constituent of cannabis and a final group is being given a placebo - a capsule containing no cannabis at all. None of the South Devon patients knows whether they are being given one of the drugs containing cannabis or the placebo.
The data is now being gathered as the final group of patients completes its year-long treatment. Results are expected by late Spring 2003.
Research nurse Suzi Reilly said: "There have been a lot of patients who seem absolutely convinced that they have been taking the cannabis and that it has really helped their MS - particularly those who continue taking it for the entire year and then stop."
The study is the first of its kind. Previous research has been limited
to groups of six to 10.
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