Dutch want cannabis registered as regular medicine

November 06, 2007

Emma Thomasson, Reuters UK

The Dutch government said on Wednesday it wants to promote the development of cannabis-based medicine and will extend the drug's availability in pharmacies by five years to allow more scientific research.

In 2003, the Netherlands became the world's first country to make cannabis available as a prescription drug in pharmacies to treat chronic pain, nausea and loss of appetite in cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.

"Medicinal cannabis must become a regular registered medicine," Health Minister Ab Klink said in a statement, adding he wanted to give the development of a cannabis-based medicine by a Dutch company a serious chance.

The Netherlands, where prostitution and the sale of cannabis for recreational use in coffee shops are regulated by the government, has a history of pioneering social reforms. It was also the first country to legalize euthanasia.

The Dutch government regulates the growing of special strains of cannabis in laboratory-style conditions to supply pharmacies, but also hopes for progress on a cannabis-based drug by Dutch firm Echo Pharmaceuticals, the Health Ministry said.

"The development path, that could take several years, can deliver scientific details and insight into the balance between the efficacy and safety of medicinal cannabis," it said.

A ministry spokesman said several thousand patients were prescribed cannabis in the Netherlands and up to 15,000 people used it for medicinal purposes, although many bought their supply at coffee shops rather than pharmacies.

Echo Pharmaceuticals said in September it was launching a tablet containing the active ingredient in cannabis that doctors can prescribe.

In 2005, Canada became the first country in the world to approve a cannabis-based medicine produced by Britain's GW Pharmaceuticals Plc as a treatment for MS patients.

U.S. regulators granted approval last year for a clinical trial for GW's under-the-tongue spray called Sativex, but the company announced in July that European regulators had requested a further clinical study before approval.

Cannabis has a long history of medicinal use. It was used as a Chinese herbal remedy around 5,000 years ago, while Britain's Queen Victoria is said to have taken cannabis tincture for menstrual pains.

But it fell out of favor because of a lack of standardized preparations and the development of more potent synthetic drugs.

Critics argue that it has not undergone sufficient scientific scrutiny and some doctors say it increases the risk of depression and schizophrenia.



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