Scientists say they have developed a cannabis-based medicine which relieves
chronic pain without any of the "high" normally associated with the drug.
They believe the discovery could pave the way for cannabis-based medication
to become available by prescription within two years.

Much of the controversy surrounding the medicinal use of cannabis has
centred on fears that it would be used solely for its mood-altering effects.

However, scientists at the University of Massachusetts in the US say their
discovery should help authorities to overcome these fears.

Dr Sumner Burstein, who is heading the research, says early trials of the
medication in animals and healthy patients have been promising.

The medication called ajulemic acid or CT3 has been manufactured in
laboratories. The chemical maximises the medicinal effects of
tertrahydrocannabinol the key ingredient of cannabis without any of the
mind-altering effects.

This compound was found to be between 10 to 50 times more effective at
reducing pain than tetrahydrocannabinol.

It was also discovered to be very effective at preventing the joint damage
associated with arthritis and relieving the muscle stiffness associated
with multiple sclerosis.

The compound was tested last year on 15 healthy volunteers in France and
they reported no side effects or mood changes. A trial on 21 patients with
chronic pain is underway in Germany.

Dr Bernstein said the results of each study had been promising and believed
the compound could replace a wide variety of medicines used to fight pain.

"The indications so far are that it is safe and effective. We believe that
(this compound) will replace aspirin and similar drugs in most applications
primarily because of a lack of toxic side effects," he said.

Other clinical trials on patients with multiple sclerosis, cancer and
arthritis have proved encouraging. Canada has already legalised the use of
medicinal cannabis and a trial involving up to 2,000 patients in Britain
and should be completed by next year.

At home, the Department of Health has said it would be prepared to give
serious consideration to the granting of the necessary licence(s) to the
Irish Medicines Board if it wanted to facilitate conducting a trial on the
medicinal benefits of products containing cannabis.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael's deputy Simon Coveney, who has consistently called
for a debate in this country on the possible benefits of using cannabis to
treat pain or illness, yesterday said policymakers needed to keep an open
mind on its medicinal properties of the drug.

"Far more dangerous drugs are used in medicine for pain relief. Morphine is
the main agent in heroin and yet that is prescribed as a painkiller. It may
be possible to use agents in cannabis to treat illness or provide pain
relief without smoking the drug, but we need to be open to those kinds of
possibilities," he said.

While he was in favour of looking at the success of current clinical
trials, he was still opposed to its legalization and condemned Britain for
easing laws on cannabis.

Source: Irish Examiner (Ireland)
Copyright: Examiner Publications Ltd, 2002
Author: Colette Keane