ISSUE 1969 Sunday 15 October 2000
By Jenny Booth and David Bamber
CANNABIS will be legalised for medical use within two years because clinical trials of the drug show it has few side effects, the chief scientist of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) believes. According to research obtained by The Telegraph, the first trial in Britain, on six healthy people, concluded that "there were no safety concerns" about the drug's use.
Last night Professor Tony Moffat said: "I have read sufficient in the literature about the small trials that people have already done showing that these are very potent compounds for relaxing muscles, and the anecdotal evidence from MS sufferers who smoke it saying it is absolutely wonderful. All the evidence points that way." Once accepted as a medicine, cannabis would almost certainly become a social drug too, he added.
Prof Moffat said that cannabis need not take the form of a cigarette with its attendant health risks, and swallowing the drug was not effective as 90 per cent of it was broken down by the liver before having much effect. But a mouth spray or even a suppository would deliver 50 per cent of the drug into the user's system. Medicinal cannabis will not give people a drug-induced "high" but will be used as a painkiller and relaxant.
Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, and his predecessor Frank Dobson, have both said the Government would legalise the medical use of cannabis if trials showed a clear benefit. The debate about legalising cannabis for medical use was reignited in 1998 when the House of Lords science and technology committee acknowledged that part of the cannabis plant seemed to alleviate asthma as effectively as conventional treatments.
The RPS is monitoring two large clinical trials of cannabis: a £400,000 study involving 300 patients to see if cannabis tablets can replace morphine as a painkiller after surgery, and a £900,000 study of 660 patients with multiple sclerosis. Both are funded by the Medical Research Council. A commercial drugs firm, GM Pharmaceuticals, has commissioned two trials of cannabis extracts delivered in a spray squirted under the tongue. The spray takes effect within two or three minutes, almost as quickly as cannabis inhaled from a cigarette.
A report on the first phase of GM Pharmaceuticals' trials said that cannabis was "well-tolerated" by volunteers, and there were "no safety concerns". The trial volunteers reported feelings of "light-headedness, awareness of a 'high', mellow or happy mood, relaxation and dizziness or unsteadiness" at high doses.
The World Health Organisation has promised to transfer cannabis from schedule one to schedule two of its list of drugs, sanctioning it for medical use worldwide, if clinical trials show it is useful as a medicine.
Mike Goodman, the director of the drug charity Release, predicted that
cannabis would be decriminalised within five to 10 years and fully legalised
within 15. It would be sold either as resin or grass and ready-rolled in
packets of five or 10 joints with brand names such as Double Zero, Purple
Haze and Northern Lights. Like tar and nicotine in cigarettes, the amount
of cannabinoids would be controlled.