August 20th, 2003
By Kate Kelland
Queen Victoria took it for menstrual cramps, multiple sclerosis sufferers have long praised its soothing effects--now cannabis is to be given to patients in the UK to see if it eases pain after surgery.
Hundreds of Britons are being recruited to take cannabis capsules after surgery as part of a major study.
"Many patients and clinicians want an answer to the question of whether cannabis is effective at relieving pain," said Dr. Anita Holdcroft, the lead investigator. "We need to assess the scientific merits of some of the anecdotal evidence and we need to do this in the same way as any other experimental pain treatment."
In the study by the Medical Research Council, scientists will recruit 400 volunteers to receive a form of cannabis, a standard pain-relieving drug or a placebo after surgery. The patients will then have their pain levels and general health monitored once every hour over a 6-hour period.
Post-operative patients hoping to get an added high as well as pain relief from the drug may be disappointed--physicians leading the study say the dose will be small, controlled and very unlikely to produce a high.
"We are giving a standardised preparation so we know the dose content," Dr. Holdcroft told Reuters. "We can't say that there won't be any effect on mood, but you won't get a high as you would if you took a large quantity of the drug very rapidly."
Dr. Holdcroft hopes the results of the study will be ready for publication within a year.
Elsewhere, British biotech firm GW Pharmaceuticals hopes to launch a cannabis-based medicine for multiple sclerosis patients by the end of this year.
Clinical trials of the GW medicine, which is administered orally by
aerosol spray, found that it reduced nerve pain, spasticity and sleep disturbance
in MS patients.
Copyright © 2003, Reuters Ltd.