Pubdate: Fri,  7 Apr 2000
Source: Eastern Daily Press (UK)
Copyright: 2000 Eastern Counties Newspapers Group Ltd
Contact:  Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE, UK
Author: Rachel Buller


Groundbreaking medical trials on the possible therapeutic benefits of
cannabis products are to be carried out in Norfolk, it was revealed last

News that the James Paget Hospital at Gorleston has been given the green
light to begin the full-scale patient trials will be welcomed by thousands
of campaigners in the region who for years have demanded the legalisation of
the drug for medicinal use.

The Government confirmed yesterday that GW Pharmaceuticals, which has a Home
Office licence to use cannabis in medical research, had been granted
permission for the trials by the Medicines Control Agency. 
Now a full-scale programme will begin involving those suffering from
multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, severe pain and spasticity.

Dr William Notcutt, who will run the programme at the James Paget, said it
was an exciting time for medicine and especially important that Norfolk was
leading the way in cannabis research.

"I have been involved in trying to get movement in this area for many years
now. It has been a long haul from the wilderness but I am just thrilled that
we have got there first," he said.

"Now I hope that this is the thing which ignites the blue touchpaper to get
these trials going all over the country.

"In the last two years everyone has woken up to the fact that cannabis used
as a medicine is something that should not be ignored and now at last we
will be able to do something about it.

"It has been around as a medicinal drug for 5000 years but it has never been
in a medicine form before. So until this point we have not been able to do
any proper clinical tests as you cannot really use cannabis smoked in a
joint or taken orally as the basis of a clinical trial."

Just last month, 51-year-old multiple sclerosis sufferer Thomas Yates from
Lowestoft was cleared of cultivating cannabis after a jury accepted his plea
that he used the drug to ease his pain.

The case prompted a fresh surge of pressure on the Government to change the
current laws and allow the drug to be used for medicinal purposes.

Speaking after last night's announcement. Mr Yates said: "It has taken years
for people to. realise that the drug helps people like myself.

"I think that there are a lot of sufferers who have not tried using cannabis
because of the legal implications, however this will hopefully enable them
in the future to use it legally in a medicine form," he said.

"I certainly would like to be part of any trials as it really is the most
effective way of relieving my pain without any side-effects. This is the
most positive step forward in getting some form of tablet available -
however I don't believe that cannabis should be legalised for recreational

Dr Notcutt, who runs a pain relief clinic, said that while some might
consider the announcement controversial, the news would be welcomed by those
suffering from debilitating diseases who for years had asked for proper
clinical trials.

He urged anti-drug campaigners to consider the trials, which are not
Government-funded, as a medical step forward and not see them as the start
of a relaxation in current drug laws.

"I don't think people can argue this because you can prescribe heroin as a
drug - and I don't talk about heroin as a painkiller in the same breath as
heroin as a recreational substance. These trials cannot in any way be linked
with drug abuse, it is an entirely different thing," he said.

He said it was a misconception that those suffering debilitating illnesses
would receive the same feeling from the drugs as recreational users or that
they would take such high doses.

"A lot of patients are incapacitated by the pain but they don't want to be
incapacitated by taking so much that they get high."

It is hoped the trials will soon begin all over Britain involving some 2000
patients over the next two to three years. They will take different
formulations of compounds derived from the drug, using an under-the-tongue
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