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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Medicinal cannabis set to be legalised
Cannabis
Cannabis has been shown to help ease the symptoms of some illnesses
Campaigners have welcomed the Home Secretary's announcement that cannabis may be legalised for medicinal use.

David Blunkett said that if current clinical trials are successful the law will be changed to allow the use of cannabis-based prescription drugs.

The drug would be used to combat conditions such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis.

Supporters of the drug claim it has wide-ranging benefits, but opponents of legalisation say it is a potentially dangerous substance that can actually damage health.


If cannabis-based drugs were available, people would have the choice and it wouldn't be muddied by the legal worries

Chris Jones, MS Research Trust
There is scientific evidence to suggest that cannabis may be useful in treating a wide range of conditions.

And wide-scale trials testing the safety and efficacy of cannabis extracts are currently underway in the UK and elsewhere.

Cannabis is an antiemetic, a drug that relieves nausea and allows patients to eat and live normally.

Extracts also seem to benefit patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, stopping muscle spasms, and reducing tremors.

Change welcomed

Dr John Zajicek, of Derriford Hospital in Plymouth is leading a team responsible for clinical trials into the medical effectiveness of cannabis on MS.

The research involves 30 centres around the UK and has already signed up 275 patients.

It hopes to have 660 by next year, and results are expected in 2003.

Dr Zajicek said: "I very much welcome any potential change to the law, providing the results of the clinical trials are positive.

"Some patients have already reported an improvement in pain but it is too early to draw any conclusions."

He added: "If we are to provide the evidence that the drug is useful in alleviating pain in MS then there has to be a way of getting the drug to those patients.

"Changes in the classification of cannabis would help for that to be achieved and that is a good thing."

Choice

Chris Jones, chief executive of the MS Research Trust told BBC News Online legalisation would be "brilliant news" for MS sufferers.


If we are to provide the evidence that the drug is useful in alleviating pain in MS then there has to be a way of getting the drug to those patients

Dr John Zajicek, Derriford Hospital, Plymouth
She said it could be some time before results of the UK trials currently underway were available.

But she said initial results from a study into using cannabis to treat bladder problems had been successful.

"If cannabis-based drugs were available, people would have the choice and it wouldn't be muddied by the legal worries", she said.

"It would mean people would be able to choose whether they wanted to take it or not.

"We have been saying for a long time that we know people are finding benefits from cannabis."

But she said many sufferers, or their children, were forced to break the law in order to obtain the drug and find relief from their symptoms.

GW Pharmaceuticals is testing the impact of cannabis on MS under government licence.

Managing director Justin Gover told BBC News Online: "We remain confident that we will be able to present data to the Medicines Control Agency in 2003 with a view to bringing to market a non-smoked cannabis-based medication for the relief of pain, spasticity and other symptoms of MS in early 2004."

Arthritis

A spokeswoman for the Arthritis Research Campaign (ARC) welcomed Mr Blunkett's announcement.

Professor John Henry: 'cannabis is a harmful drug'
Professor John Henry: 'cannabis is a harmful drug'
She said: "We think people who use cannabis to relieve the pain of arthritis should be able to do so."

The ARC is backing research at the Kennedy Institute in London which looks at using a cannabinoid, an extract of cannabis, to treat arthritis.

But the British Lung Foundation warned making cannabis a Class C drug could lead to more people developing smoking-related diseases.

It called for health campaigns to be run alongside the declassification, like those run to warn of the dangers of smoking cigarettes.

And Professor John Henry of St Mary's Hospital, London said: "Cannabis is a harmful drug. It can affect people's ability to manage their lives, it certainly affects people's memory and in the long term, we don't know, but it will probably cause lung cancer to the same degree that cigarettes do."

"But it will probably

See also:

31 May 01 | UK
'Pain drove me to pot'
10 Aug 01 | Health
Pain test for cannabis
05 Jul 01 | Health
Cannabis 'not medical panacea'
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