CANNABIS ON WAY TO BEING MADE LEGAL AS PAINKILLER
Source: Press & Journal, Aberdeen
Date: 19 Feb 2002
CANNABIS ON WAY TO BEING MADE LEGAL AS PAINKILLER
MOVES which could see cannabis-based painkillers made available on prescription from the National Health Service within two years were welcomed by patients' groups yesterday.
Health Minister Lord Hunt said the use of cannabis derivatives to relieve pain in multiple sclerosis sufferers and post-operative patients was being referred to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice).
Trials funded by the Medical Research Council with the backing of the Department of Health and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society - to assess the use of cannabinoids in pain relief are already under way.
The results are expected by the end of the year and will be used by Nice in carrying out its appraisal of the drugs.
Nicola Russell, from the Multiple Sclerosis Trust, the national support organisation for people with MS, said: 'Our members say they have enjoyed great benefits from using cannabis but have found themselves prosecuted for possessing it. Action to tackle this situation is most welcome."
Multiple sclerosis sufferer Lezley Gibson started smoking cannabis more than 10 years ago and says that without it she would have no quality of life.
Mother-of-one Mrs Gibson has been prosecuted for possession of the drug and is facing similar charges. She said: "It would he great to be able to get cannabis in some form from the chemist.
'It will mean people who need the medicine, like me, will be able to get it without being made to feel like a criminal."
Mrs Gibson, of Alston, Cumbria, was 21 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and was told she would be in a wheelchair and incontinent within five years.
Sixteen years later, she is still able to walk, which she believes is because of the benefits of cannabis, which 'she started smoking three years after being told she had the disease.
A decision on whether any of the cannabis derivatives being tested will be licensed for official medical use is thought likely some time in 2004 or 2005.
If they do receive a licence, the Department of Health said that the NHS would need timely and clear guidance from Nice on the clinical and cost-effectiveness of the treatments.
Mrs Gibson's husband, Mark, medical spokesman for the Legalise Cannabis Alliance, said MS sufferers needed cannabis to be legalised as soon as possible.
"It might be 2004 before this comes in, which is only two years - but try telling that to someone who desperately needs the medicine now," he said.
The debate over the use of cannabis in medicine is controversial and emotive.
Supporters of the drug claim it has wide-ranging benefits but opponents say it is a potentially dangerous substance which can actually damage, health - and can encourage people to use harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
It has been claimed that cannabis can prevent nausea caused by cancer chemotherapy, alleviate muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis, relieve chronic pain, and help in the treatment of anorexia, glaucoma, epilepsy and mood disorders.
Opponents say it damages the ability to concentrate and there are other side-effects because cannabis has more than 400 active ingredients.
Home Secretary David Blunkett last year announced he wanted the laws covering cannabis to be eased so that possession would no longer be an arrestable offence.
The drug would remain illegal under Mr Blunkett's proposals but be reclassified from a class B to a class C drug, enabling police to concentrate on harder drugs.
Wiltshire-based GW Pharmaceuticals, which is developing a portfolio of non-smoked cannabis-based prescription medicines, welcomed the Government's move.
Scottish National Party shadow deputy health minister Shona Robison said arguments about the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis should not be confused.
The North-east MSP said: "Like most people, I support the medicinal use of cannabis derivatives."
"It will move us away from the silly arguments about cannabis cafes to the more sensible arguments, about proper medicinal use of cannabis derivatives which would be very different from the effects that smoking the drug will have."
Scots Tory health spokeswoman Mary Scanlon said it was better for MS sufferers to be prescribed cannabis-derived painkillers than be forced to seek help on the black market.
"I am in favour of extracting the elements from cannabinoids and manufacturing them legally in order to alleviate the pain and suffering of multiple sclerosis sufferers said the Highlands and Islands MSP.
Ms Scanlon added that the trials had been going on for three years.
She said that, if Nice determined there were benefits to be had from prescribing cannabis-based drugs, politicians should support it.
Aberdeen South Labour MP Anne Begg said she had always supported the availability of cannabinoids, provided their use had been proved effective for treating groups of patients such as those suffering from MS. She remained totally op-posed to its use for recreational purposes.
Angus SNP ME Mike Weir said: "We have always been sympathetic to cannabis being available on prescription and we await the conclusions of Nice and HTB.'
Gordon Liberal Democrat MP Malcolm Bruce said it was eccentric to ban cannabis-based medicines on prescription when medicines based on much harder drugs were available.
Aberdeen North Labour MP Malcolm Savidge said it had always been anomalous that drugs had always been available which, like morphine, include heroin derivatives but those of cannabis had been banned