HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Lords Back Cannabis Use For Patients Suffering Pain
Pubdate: Wed, 11 Nov 1998
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Media Group 1998
Author: Sarah Boseley


Doctors should be legally allowed to prescribe cannabis for multiple
sclerosis sufferers and other patients who find it helps relieve pain, says
a report from a scientific committee of the House of Lords, published today.

The report was hailed as courageous by patients who buy the drug on the
streets and smoke it in fear of the law.

Its findings were backed by pharmacists, but rejected by the British Medical
Association, representing doctors. Government departments promptly let it be
known that they would not lift the ban on a drug that has not undergone
clinical trials.

The House of Lords select committee on Science and Technology accepted the
lack of "rigorous scientific evidence" for the pain-relieving properties of
cannabis. But, said the chairman, Lord Perry of Walton, they were making
their recommendation "primarily for compassionate reasons".

As a Schedule 1 drug, cannabis is deemed to have no therapeutic value, and
is not available to medicine. The Lords want it moved to Schedule 2, which
would mean pharmacists could supply it and doctors could prescribe it,
although it would not be licensed.

Lord Perry, one of the majority of well-respected scientists and academics
on the committee, said that "the evidence that I relieves pain, especially
neorological pain, is quite convincing", even though most of it is

Although serious clinical trials will begin in January, Lord Perry said it
would take five years before cannabis or its derivatives would be licensed
as a medicine.

"We consider there is sufficient evidence of medicinal benefit to many
patients to make it unjustifiable and inhumane to make them wait so long,"
he said.

Since the only effective way to deliver cannabis to the brain swiftly is
through smoking it at the moment, the Lords are even prepared to countenance
its prescription for use in a joint, although they urged research into
inhalation and other methods.

They urged the Government to take a lead in Europe and reschedule cannabis
now, but the Department of Health and the Home Office poured cold water on
the idea. "The Government would not be prepared to countenance any movement
to allow prescription before clinical trials and safety tests have been
concluded," said a Home Office spokeswoman. The Department of Health said
that any drug to be used in patient treatment must be licensed by the
Medicines Control Agency "and you can't do that with a Schedule 1 drug".

But the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which will be running the trials in
January, agrees with the Lords, as long as a standardised cannabis product
can be produced - not a weed which can vary in strength.

Clare Hodges, from the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, who suffers from
multiple sclerosis herself, said she was delighted with the report. "I think
they have shown great compassion and great bravery," she said.

Sir William Asscher, chairman of the BMA's Board of Science and Education,
said he understood the Lords' humanitarian motives but could not support
them. "Crude cannabis is a toxic mixture of more than 60 cannabinoids and
other ingredients," he said.

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Checked-by: Rolf Ernst