Newshawk: Martin Cooke ( email@example.com)
Pubdate: Sun, 21 Nov 1999
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Media Group plc. 1999
Author: Tracy McVeigh
UK: Science Finds The Best Dope For Pain
It has been debated in smoke-filled bedsits since the Sixties. But now a Government-licensed firm can say for certain which dope is the best on the market.
GW Pharmaceuticals has tested different strains of cannabis on human volunteers and established which is most effective, at least for medicinal purposes. GW was granted a Home Office licence last year to begin a three-year programme to develop cannabis-based medicines. It now has 20,000 marijuana plants growing under glass at a Special Branch-approved, secure location in the South of England.
Dr Geoffrey Guy, the company's chairman, hopes a cannabis-based prescription drug will be on the market within three to four years.
There is increasing evidence that the plant can help treat pain, notably in cases of multiple sclerosis, paraplegia and neuralgia. It also reportedly increases Aids sufferers' appetites, and helps treat the eye disease glaucoma.
Last week scientists found cannabis sativa , normally grown for its flowers rather than its resin, the most effective pain-relieving strain. Sativa produces 'grass', not solid hashish - generally made from cannabis indica .
Researchers found sativa was botanically distinct from rope-making hemp, resin-heavy cannabis indica and cannabis ruderalis, a slightly weaker plant.
Healthy volunteers were given various doses of liquid cannabis drops placed under the tongue, for direct absorption into the blood stream.
'These are the first studies in which human subjects have been administered fully standardised extracts of cannabis,' said Guy. 'The key thing is to work out which combination of the active ingredients works best. Effectively that is what we have done in phase one.'
According to Guy, most people using the drug for medicinal purposes do not welcome the 'high'. 'They want the pain to be eased without unwanted side-effects so that they can get on with their lives,' he said.
In parallel with the trials, researchers have also been testing various gadgets to administer the drug to the patient. Most recreational users smoke their cannabis, an unacceptable method in medicine. But GW Pharmaceuticals is working on a special inhaler to dispense cannabis vapour.
Similar to pocket-sized nebulisers for asthma sufferers, the 'dope guns' will have little black-market value since the dosage they dispense is lower than that typically sought by a recreational cannabis user. When data from phase one has been approved by the Medicines Control Agency, probably early next year, phase two and three will see trials on initially small groups of MS and other patients to establish therapeutic benefits.
MAP posted-by: Derek Rea
The Observer (UK)