25 October 2001
By Stephen Foley
The Government's relaxation of the drugs laws could pave the way for cannabis to be used to treat a wide range of medical conditions, according to the UK firm licensed to cultivate the drug for research.
Shares in GW Pharmaceuticals, which is testing a cannabis-based painkiller on multiple sclerosis and cancer sufferers, surged on the stock exchange yesterday amid hopes that the drug would gain a new legitimacy as a medicinal product. The company is now beginning three separate trials of a painkilling mouth spray based on cannabis extracts.
Geoffrey Guy, the chairman of GW, said he has been keeping the Home Office updated about the progress of clinical trials. "We are not battling against the tide in convincing people that this drug works," he said. "The greater liberalisation being practised by governments across the world gives me hope that we will be able to look at using cannabis for less serious conditions, such as mild rheumatoid arthritis."
GW was set up in 1997 with a Government licence to "cultivate, process and supply" cannabis for research purposes. The company can grow up to 40,000 cloned cannabis plants a year at its high-security greenhouse at a secret location in the UK. GW raised £25m by floating on the stock exchange in June but investors had lost two-fifths of their money before yesterday's surge of interest, when the shares rose 14 per cent.
In his announcement yesterday, Mr Blunkett reiterated the Government's support for a change in the law to allow the medical use of cannabis, if GW's trials are a success.
Early results have suggested cannabis relieves the pain caused by nerve damage, helps reduce spasms, ensures a better night's sleep and improves the mood of patients.
Mr Guy said he expected the first products would be ready for approval by the Medicines Control Agency in 2003. He dismissed concern in the City that sales of GW's products could suffer if the drug becomes easier to obtain as a result of proposals to stop possession being an arrestable offence.
Mr Guy said: "Our programme is dedicated to providing patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, cancer, arthritis and other serious medical conditions with prescription medicines which harness the medical effects of cannabis without the harmful effects of smoking.
"Patients will much prefer to get our regulated product, prescribed by a doctor, filled out by a pharmacist and refunded by the National Health Service."