Pubdate: Tue, 04 Sep 2001
Source: Financial Times (UK)
Section: London Edition 2, National News, Pg 4
Copyright: The Financial Times Limited 2001
Author: Clive Cookson
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)

British Association Science Festival In Glasgow


Cannabis extract is proving remarkably effective at relieving severe pain 
in patients with multiple sclerosis and spinal injury, the British 
Association science festival in Glasgow heard yesterday.

William Nortcutt, a pain specialist at James Paget Hospital, Great 
Yarmouth, gave the first results of a clinical trial that he is conducting 
in collaboration with GW Pharmaceuticals, the company authorised by the 
government to grow cannabis for medical purposes.

Dr Nortcutt has studied 23 people with intractable pain for more than a 
year, monitoring the responses of each patient to a succession of different 
cannabis extracts and placebos. The materials were administered through a 
spray under the tongue - a method that gives a much faster and more 
reproducible effect than eating cannabis and is safer than smoking it. "The 
joint is not analysable or suitable for medical practice," Dr Nortcutt said.

Only one of the 23 patients failed to benefit from the cannabis spray and 
two others dropped out because of side effects. The remaining 18 
experienced pain relief that varied from moderate ("at least I can sleep at 
night") to dramatic ("it has transformed my life"). Patients on morphine to 
control severe pain were able to cut their doses dramatically.

GW Pharmaceuticals supplies Dr Nortcutt with extracts of plants cultured to 
contain different cannabinoid chemicals, from which the sprays are made. 
Most patients favour a mixture with less psychoactive impact.

"Of course you can get stoned on this treatment if you want, and one or two 
of our patients did push it to a high, to see what the effects would be, 
but that is not what they want," Dr Nortcutt said. "They are desperate for 
pain relief."

Elizabeth Williamson, senior lecturer at the School of Pharmacy in London, 
said most patients preferred extracts of the whole cannabis plant, which 
contains 70 different cannabinoids, rather than purified 
tetrahydrocannabinol, the component responsible for producing the "high".

Other clinical studies of cannabis are taking place in London, Oxford, 
Plymouth and the Channel Islands.
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