Pubdate: Sun, 21 Nov 1999
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Media Group plc. 1999
Author: Tracy McVeigh


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

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. 
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