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Monday, 11 December, 2000, 11:04 GMT
Scientists develop cannabis spray
Smoking cannabis
Research is being carried out on the effects of cannabis
Scientists have developed cannabis in a spray form which could become available on the NHS.

The breakthrough could pave the way for cannabis being used, under medical supervision, in aerosols and injections.

Professor Roger Pertwee, Britain's leading researcher into the medical benefits of cannabis, believes this approach would be more acceptable to doctors.

If we can get rid of some of the unwanted effects of cannabis it may be able to help a great many conditions

Professor Roger Pertwee

GPs have opposed the use of the drug because it had to be smoked, which risks causing cancer, or eaten, which is an unreliable method of taking the drug.

Now Prof Pertwee believes the cannabis could be available through the National Health Service within five to 10 years - if not sooner.

The House of Lords' science and technology committee has recommended the drug be made available now for medical purposes.

The UK Government - through the Medical Research Council - is currently carrying out a 1m trial involving 600 multiple sclerosis patients to assess the medical benefits of the drug.

Drug companies

Prof Pertwee, a reader in neuropharmacology at Aberdeen University, is recognised as the country's leading researcher into the medical benefits of cannabis.

He is also secretary of the International Cannabis Research Society.

His team's research has already attracted the interest of major drug companies in the UK and the USA, where some states allow cannabis to be used medically.

Prof Pertwee, who has been researching cannabis for 30 years, believes "thousands" of Multiple Sclerosis patients in the UK are already using the drug to relieve their chronic pain and muscle spasms.

"I agree with the government that more data should be available before prescribing the drug," he said.

Cannabis plant
The research has interested drug companies
"But having said that I would make cannabis available on the NHS now because a great many people are using it to relieve chronic pain and they are doing that through the black market.

"I would rather they used cannabis under medical supervision."

He has developed and patented the new cannabis compound in collaboration with Boston-based Dr Raj Razdan and Virginia-based Dr Billy Martin.

"Water soluble compounds also make the delivery of the drug easier and less toxic," said Prof Pertwee.

"If we can get rid of some of the unwanted effects of cannabis it may be able to help a great many conditions.

Pain relief

"If we can't then its benefits will be limited to relieving chronic pain."

He is currently working on removing the "high" from cannabis, a step which involves work on the body's nervous system.

"Unfortunately the same receptor upon which cannabis acts is also the same target for the pain it is trying to relieve," said Prof Pertwee.

"But it may be possible to have target drugs which block out or minimise the high of cannabis but allow its pain-relieving qualities to work."

The UK Government banned the medically prescribed use of cannabis in 1971, but in recent years there has been a growing reluctance by prosecutors to take such users to court.

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See also:

17 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Drugs policy rethink for Widdecombe
21 Mar 00 | Medical notes
Cannabis: The debate
02 Mar 00 | Health
Cannabis 'helps MS sufferers'
05 Jan 99 | Health
Cannabis grown for medical tests
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