Ms Victims to Get Cannabis Drug in Canada

April 18, 2005

Emily Pennink, The Scotsman

A cannabis-based medicine formulated by a UK company to help sufferers of multiple sclerosis has been approved for use for the first time – in Canada.

Sativex oral spray was given the go-ahead in Canada to treat neuropathic pain in adults with MS, GW pharmaceuticals and Bayer HealthCare announced today.


The move has raised hopes that the drug will soon be available in the UK to thousands of patients, some of whom, a recent study suggested, have already resorted to using recreational cannabis.

The UK medicines and healthcare products regulatory agency is expected to complete its review of the spray as a treatment for spasticity in MS in the summer.

Sativex was produced as a result of research by UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals and marketed by Bayer HealthCare.

Dr William Notcutt, pain consultant at James Paget Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “This is great news for MS sufferers in Canada.

“In the UK thousands of MS patients suffer from neuropathic pain.

“The condition is very difficult to treat and, as a physician, I welcome any new treatment.

“I have seen my patients benefit from Sativex in trials and it has an excellent safety profile.

“I hope that it is licensed in the UK soon, particularly as we have done all the research and development.”

Chris Jones, MS Trust chief executive, said: “It is good news for people with MS in Canada that they will now have the opportunity to test the effectiveness of cannabis treatment, using a product that is legal.

“We know that many treatments work for some with MS and not others; cannabis-based medicines are unlikely to be an exception.

“Clearly there are many people with MS in the UK who will also be looking forward to the opportunity of finding out if they will benefit from this treatment.”

Sativex is administered by the patient through a spray pump into the mouth, either under the tongue or on the inside of the cheek.

Dr Mick Serpell, consultant and senior lecturer in pain management at Glasgow University, added: “Because Sativex is designed for self-administration, this allows for flexible dosing and puts the patient in control of their pain.

“This is very important since pain severity varies between different patients and even in the same patient at different times.

“It also allows for very accurate titration of the medication in order to reduce the side effects to a minimum.”

MS, for which there is no known cure, is thought to affect around 85,000 people in the UK.

Sativex has been trialled for cancer pain as well as spasticity and neuropathic pain in MS over the last few years.

A recent five-week trial of the drug with 66 MS patients found that Sativex significantly reduced pain and pain-related sleep disturbance, according to GW pharmaceuticals and Bayer HealthCare.

Clinical trials found the most common side-effects included nausea, fatigue, dizziness and application site reactions, the companies said.

Last month, Home Secretary Charles Clarke asked independent advisers about introducing a higher classification for cannabis in the wake of emerging evidence about stronger forms of the drug and possible links to mental illness.

But he said it would not affect the decision on whether to give the go-ahead to the prescription form of the drug.

The reassurance came as a study suggested large numbers of doctors are unofficially advising patients to try cannabis.

According to the study published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, one in six people who use cannabis for medical reasons say it was suggested to them by their doctors.

However, the British Medical Association has said it was not aware of doctors acting in such a way.

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