Mon Feb 18, 9:40 AM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - Britons suffering from multiple sclerosis
and other forms of severe pain could legally be prescribed
cannabis-based drugs within two years, health chiefs said on
Sufferers from diseases such as MS, which attacks the central
nervous system, have been calling for a pain-relieving
cannabis medicine for years and many have broken the law by
buying the drug from street dealers.
The government is studying its use as a painkiller, a move
likely to reignite debate over relaxing Britain's drug laws.
Canada became the first country to legalize the use of
marijuana as a treatment for chronic illnesses last year.
Trials have been set up in Britain to assess the use of
cannabis in multiple sclerosis and post-operative pain, Health
Minister Lord Hunt said.
Britain's government-funded Medical Research Council is
testing cannabis-based tablets on hundreds of MS sufferers.
The results of those tests, expected at the end of 2002, will
be forwarded to NICE, Britain's medical watchdog, which will
decide whether the cannabis tablets should be offered on
prescription through the National Health Service.
"A decision whether one or more of these products will be
licensed for official medical use is likely in 2004/5," the
Department of Health said in a statement.
Hunt warned against linking the medicinal use of cannabis to
its recreational use.
Britain has relaxed its stance on marijuana, saying users
caught with small quantities of the drug for personal use will
escape with a police caution rather than a fine or jail term.
Cannabis is favored by many MS or cancer sufferers, who say it
kills pain and stimulates appetite without the corrosive side
effects of many prescription alternatives.
A British company, GW Pharmaceuticals, is developing
cannabis-based prescription medicines. It recently said it
would expand clinical trials into dealing with cancer pain.
Dr. Geoffrey Guy, executive chairman of GW, said: "This is a
positive move by the government."
The Multiple Sclerosis Society, the United Kingdom's largest
charity for the 85,000 British people affected by the
crippling disorder, said it welcomed any new, safe
"Anecdotal evidence tells us that existing drugs are not
effective in dealing with their symptoms and they do get
benefit from using cannabis," said a spokesman for the
Cannabis was outlawed in Britain in 1928 and possession and
supply remain illegal.