August 31, 2002 Saturday Ontario Edition
Will Anne McLellan opt for sprayed instead of smoked?
The federal health minister told doctors recently she is uncomfortable with the idea of Canadians smoking marijuana to relieve pain. But England is offering an alternative. A British pharmaceutical company is producing a cannabis aerosol spray under licence to the U.K. government.
Similar to a breath spray, it seems to offer the medical benefits of marijuana without the harmful side effects of smoking, said Justin Gover, managing director of GW Pharmaceuticals Inc.
It has been testing the spray in clinical trials over the past five years in Britain and Europe with 400 people who have multiple sclerosis, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and spinal-cord injuries.
The company offered the spray to Health Canada for use in clinical trials, but the federal government turned it down, Gover confirmed when contacted this week.
"We've had discussions with Heath Canada for a number of years," he said from Salisbury, England.
"The discussions really centred on GW establishing a clinical trials program in Canada of sufficient size to allow Canadians to take part."
But McLellan's predecessor, Allan Rock, who was minister when Ottawa was first approached, chose instead to have a supply of marijuana cultivated domestically for use in clinical trials.
The result was a 200-kilogram harvest that was grown under contract to the government in an abandoned Manitoba mine.
McLellan, however, has announced that the crop will not be used in clinical trials after all because it contains too many different strains. The plants were grown from seedlings seized in police drug raids.
A group of seven Canadian medical marijuana users and suppliers are suing for access to that crop, but one of their lawyers says a cannabis spray would be the first choice.
"I'm quite certain the spray is the way to go," Alan Young said. "I've never had a client extol the virtues of smoking."
The legal problems faced by medical marijuana users in Canada are the same in many parts of the world, Gover said.
His company's solution is to convert marijuana into a form that can be approved under existing laws, as was done with morphine.
Although opium is a banned substance in most countries, morphine, which is one of its derivatives, can be prescribed to control pain.
The firm is on track to apply early next year to have use of the spray approved under Britain's regulatory regime for prescription drugs, Gover said. Its target is to have the spray on the market in early 2004.
"If our program is successful in the U.K., we have every intention of applying to Health Canada for approval of our product in Canada," he said, adding if that happens, the spray could conceivably be available here at about the same time as in Britain.
A Health Canada spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
© Copyright 2002 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.