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Cannabis trial's early success

The legalisation of cannabis for medicinal use has moved a step closer following promising early results from the world's first full commercial trial of the drug.

The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has already said that the law will be changed to allow its use as a prescription drug to treat painful conditions such as arthritis if current trials are successful.

This week's Panorama reports exclusively on the trial in Oxford and the progress of three patients with multiple sclerosis who took part in it.

The programme also talks to doctors about whether the trial could change the way we think about the drug.

Jo, a reading tutor, is the worst affected of all the patients that were filmed.

Human guinea pigs

The wife of a school chaplain, she was an active young woman - in good health until the mid-Eighties. Now at 58, she is almost paralysed.

She admits she was tempted to get cannabis illegally, but felt she had too much to lose because of her husband's job.

She says: "I can just imagine what fun the local papers would have with 'School chaplain found hanging around pub wanting cannabis'. It just isn't worth it really."

Tyrone
Tyrone hopes to regain a little dignity
Tyrone, who also has MS, needs two carers and a winch to help him get up in the morning.

He was diagnosed with the disease in 1980 and has now almost completely lost the use of his limbs .

He hopes the trial will give him back a little dignity and allow him to feed himself properly.

Improvement

The third MS sufferer Panorama followed was Sandra from Banbury who has had the disease for 25 years and hopes that cannabis will help with tremors in her hands.

Sandra, a mother of two, underwent a risky brain operation called a thalamotomy which helped restore normal movement in one hand.

The trial involves the use of three sprays containing differing strengths of cannabis, as well as a placebo.

All three guinea-pigs reported an improvement, and for Sandra the change was dramatic.

Sandra rides a horse for the first time since 1993
Sandra rides a horse for the first time since 1993
She tells Panorama that the trial has meant "a whole new outlook on life".

She adds: "Having a good night's sleep, painfree - and being able to feed myself breakfast, feed myself lunch, feed myself dinner, it makes me feel normal, which is all I'm asking.

"Please, please give me the cannabis and let me feel normal."

Dr Philip Robson, from GW Pharmaceuticals who ran the trial, says: "I think Sandra's very typical in the sense that all the patients have been very severely handicapped by the symptoms of their disorder which is usually multiple sclerosis.

"And it's been striking that most people have had a positive response."

"Wonder drug"

Professor Lester Grinspoon from Harvard Medical School says: "I think that cannabis is very likely eventually to be seen as a wonder drug of the twenty-first century."

But people with conditions like schizophrenia or heart problems may be put at risk by using cannabis. Tyrone had high blood pressure that delayed his start on the trials.

The Oxford pharmacologist, Baroness Susan Greenfield, sounds a note of caution.

She tells Panorama: "My concerns are not so much for the patients because if they are having help and it's working, that's marvellous and I would hope that no one would stop that happening.

"My concerns are how those data are interpreted. If people think this is giving them a green light to just go and get high indiscriminately.

"I hope that enough floor space is given to actually ventilate the scientific arguments for and against so that we really draw a clear distinction between a medicine and a drug of abuse."

Click on the link below to watch the programme live at 2215 GMT

Video56K

See also:

24 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Cannabis laws to be relaxed
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