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Cannabis Drug Licensed For Multiple Sclerosis


Nug of the Month: Aug 2008
For years cannabis has been touted as an effective pain relief for a myriad of debilitating conditions but controversy and red tape has prevented it being licensed as a legitimate form of medication.

Now health professionals, campaigners and patients are heralding a new era of treatment, as Sativex - a derivative of cannabis - is licenced for the first time in the UK to relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Sarah Hall talks to the eminent Norfolk doctor whose long battle to get the drug on the market was finally won this week.

Ten years ago Dr William Notcutt from the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston embarked on a series of clinical trials into the treatment of MS, a chronic nervous disorder which causes severe muscle pain, spasms and visual and sensory problems.

The clinical experiments centre on Sativex, an oral spray made from cannabis extract, which many health professionals have long supported in the treatment of MS because it alleviates severe symptoms.

Dr Notcutt's research on MS was used develop to develop Sativex and while it has been used as a treatment in Canada for some years it was not legalised in the UK.

His battle - along with a dedicated team at the Gorleston hospital - finally reached fruition and this week the first symptom-relief drug specifically for people with MS was licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The landmark decision means thousands of patients could benefit within weeks with a reduction in spasticity and their quality of life greatly improved.

But why did it take so long?

"These trials have shown just how effective Sativex is but there was a lot of bureaucracy to get through because it is a cannabis extract," Dr Notcutt said. "And manufacturers have had to jump through loops to get the drug licensed. It has always been quite controversial. That is why is has taken such a long time. I am over the moon that it has finally been licensed.

"MS is a very painful condition and there are a lot of drugs which are not effective for pain relief. Sativex relieves spasms. It relaxes muscles to enable patients to walk and do other things much more easily. It greatly improves their quality of life."

In Norfolk it is believed there are at least 500 people with MS and across the country there are an estimated 100,000. It is thought the treatment is only effective in around 40pc of people who take it and it becomes clear within a matter of weeks if it's not working.

The trials were carried out on about 200 Norfolk patients at the JPUH over the past 10 years. One of them was 32-year-old Victoria Hutchins from Easton who said her pain had been relieved "dramatically" since taking Sativex, which is sprayed under the tongue up to 12 times a day.

Sativex became the world's first cannabis medicine to win regulatory clearance when it was approved in Canada in 2005 for neuropathic pain but its roll-out in Britain, and then potentially other European markets, - by drug company GW Pharmaceuticals - is regarded as a major step in progressive medicine.

But although the drug has been approved by the Department of Health it now has to be officially adopted by individual primary care trusts (PCTs) - which could be another battle.

Dr Notcutt said: "The task is now to persuade PCTs to take on this treatment. It is up to each PCT and there are worries it could turn into a postcode lottery with some choosing to use it and some not.

"The good thing about Sativex compared to other medication is that the effects are known within a matter of weeks. It means a patient does not need to take it for ages without realising the benefits. The good results happen very fast which is excellent news for patients.

"It is now up to the health trusts to rise to the challenge of providing Sativex for their patients. And this is just the start hopefully - there now could be many other conditions which can be treated in a similar way."

NewsHawk: Ganjarden: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: EDP24
Contact: EDP24
Copyright: 2010 Archant Regional Ltd
Website: Cannabis drug licensed for multiple sclerosis
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