DOCTOR PIONEERS CANNABIS-BASED DRUG
For years people who have smoked cannabis to relieve chronic pain have lived in fear of possible arrest and prosecution.
Now, thanks to the pioneering work of a Norfolk doctor, the beneficial
effects of the plant known for 5000 years have been recognised in
a legal medicine for the first time.
Cannabis-based drug Sativex, developed in trials by consultant anaesthetist Dr William Notcutt at James Paget Hospital, Gorleston, has been licensed for use in Canada for patients suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS).
Dr Notcutt, who started Britain's first clinical trial of cannabis as a medicine five years ago, welcomed the breakthrough but expressed disappointment the drug had yet to be sanctioned in this country.
He said: "In the UK thousands of MS patients suffer from neuropathic pain. The condition is difficult to treat and, as a physician, I welcome any new treatment.
"I have seen my patients benefit from Sativex in trials and it has an excellent safety profile. It is disappointing it is not yet available in the UK, particularly as we have done all the research and development.
"Canada has accepted the results of all the research and it says something about our regulatory authority that we are slower."
He said many people were still using cannabis illicitly only to relieve their symptoms.
Sativex, which is administered via a mouth spray, is the subject of a review by the UK regulatory authorities due for completion in the summer.
Dr Notcutt, who began his trials five years ago, said they had initially been conducted on patients suffering from MS and spinal injuries, but he believed the treatment had even greater prospects.
He believes it could be helpful with rheumatoid arthritis, and possibly in certain types of cancer, including brain tumours.
He said: "There are lots of things coming out of the research, and in five or 10 years' time there could be an explosion of uses far beyond the world of pain."
He used cannabis plants supplied by GW Pharmaceuticals specially grown for the purpose.
Results were varied but some patients reported dramatic improvements, with two reporting "their best night's sleep for 10 years".
Sativex is sprayed either under the tongue or on the inside of the cheek and is administered by the patient.
Dr Notcutt said: "It is a very controlled form.
"We can deliver the right dose to relieve spasms without causing light-headedness or drowsiness."
Chris Jones, chief executive of the MS Trust , said: "It is good news for people with MS in Canada that they will now have the opportunity to test the effectiveness of cannabis treatment, using a product that is legal.
"Clearly there are many people suffering with MS in the UK who will also be looking forward to the opportunity of finding out whether they also will benefit from this treatment."