LONDON (Reuters) - Queen Victoria took it for period cramps, multiple sclerosis
sufferers have long praised its soothing effects -- now cannabis is to be given
to British patients to see if it eases pain after surgery.

Hundreds of Britons are being recruited to take cannabis capsules after
operations, as part of a major study.

Anecdotal evidence suggests cannabis -- taken by many thousands of people
across the world as a recreational drug -- does soothe pain, but British
scientists said on Wednesday it was now time for proper clinical tests.

"Many patients and clinicians want an answer to the question of whether
cannabis is effective at relieving pain," said Anita Holdcroft, the doctor
leading the study.

"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."

Scientists heading the study by the Medical Research Council will recruit 400
volunteers to take either 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 six-hour period to allow researchers to compare their
experiences.

Cannabis has a long history of medicinal use. Its first recorded use was as a
Chinese herbal remedy some 5,000 years ago.

Queen Victoria, whose doctor once described the drug as "one of the most
valuable medicines we possess" is said to have taken cannabis tincture in the
19th century as a pain reliever during menstruation.

British biotech firm GW Pharmaceuticals hopes to launch a Cannabis-based
medicine for multiple sclerosis sufferers by the end of this year.

Clinical trials of the GW medicine -- which is sprayed into the mouth -- found
that it reduced nerve pain, spasticity and sleep disturbance in MS sufferers.

Shares in the company were up 7.5 percent at a two-month high on Wednesday,
buoyed by the launch of the new study.

But post-operative patients hoping to get an added high as well as pain relief
from the drug may be disappointed -- doctors leading the study say the dose
will be small, controlled and very unlikely to produce a high.

"We are giving a standardized preparation so we know the dose content,"
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."

Holdcroft hopes the results of the study will be ready for publication within a
year.


Pubdate: Tue, 26 Aug 2003
Source: Reuters (Wire)
Copyright: 2003 Reuters Limited
Author: Kate Kelland