Canada is the 1st to approve the cannabis-based painkiller Sativex

April 20, 2005

Beth Duff-Brown, Associated Press

TORONTO - Canada has become the first country in the world to approve a cannabis-based painkiller for patients suffering multiple sclerosis, a move applauded by those with the disease and proponents of medical uses for marijuana.

Health Canada, the federal agency that oversees medical care for Canadians, announced Tuesday it had approved the prescription painkiller Sativex, made from components derived from the cannabis plant that have been shown to ease pain.

The British drug company GW Pharmaceuticals, which developed the painkiller, said Canada is the first country to grant regulatory approval for Sativex, which will be marketed in Canada by Bayer HealthCare and could be in pharmacies by summer.

The medicine can be sprayed under the tongue or inside the cheek, avoiding the carcinogenic dangers of smoking pot.

Many with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, treat their pain by smoking marijuana. But the dose is hard to regulate and the drug is difficult to obtain legally.

About 50,000 Canadians and 400,000 Americans have MS and some 2.5 million are believed to be afflicted worldwide, according to the New York-based National Multiple Sclerosis Society. About half of MS patients suffer from chronic pain.

In 2001, Canada became the first country to adopt a system regulating the medicinal use of marijuana for people suffering from terminal illnesses and chronic conditions.

Proponents of legalizing medicinal marijuana are hailing the new medicine. 'This confirms that virtually everything the U.S. government has told us about marijuana is wrong,' said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. government has classified marijuana as a drug that is as dangerous as heroin, although 10 states have passed laws that allow its use under medical supervision.

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