Despite cannabis being illegal to possess in the UK, a British company is behind the research that could see the worlds’ first cannabis drug being sold in American drug stores. Around ten years ago, the company behind the studies founder – GW Pharma’s Dr Geoffrey Guy, got permission to grow it in order to develop a prescription drug. The idea that it could be used as a pain relieving drug for cancer was heard at a scientific conference. Here, anecdotal evidence was provided that showed cannabis is able to give relief to people suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. The British government at that time welcomed it as one way ‘to draw a clear line between recreational and medicinal use’, company spokesman Mark Rogerson said. GW Pharma are currently in the last stages of trials for a drugs derived from raw marijuana, rather than manufactured from artificial substances. The drug, called Sativex, will be in the form of a mouth spray, specifically designed for the treatment of cancer pain. Typically, cannabis is thought to be used for medicinal purposes for the relief of symptoms from Multiple Sclerosis as it relieves painful muscle spasms.
The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) had already approved prescription drugs containing the main psychoactive ingredients in marijuana over 25 years ago and the two well known components, delta 9-THC and cannabidiol, have also already been approved in Canada, New Zealand and eight European countries for the sole purpose of relieving muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis. If approval from the FDA for Sativex was given, it might end the US Drug Enforcement Administration stance who class marijuana as a dangerous drug with no medicinal value whatsoever. When in fact, 16 states and Washington DC allow people to freely use marijuana legally so long as they have a doctors’ recommendations.
However, one stumbling block may be that The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has not endorsed marijuana use by patients. They are going to sponsor a study by a neurologist at the University of California, to see how smoking marijuana compares to Marinol* in addressing painful muscle spasms. The society’s chief research officer said, “The cannabinoids and marijuana will, eventually, likely be part of the clinician’s armamentarium, if they are shown to be clinically beneficial. The big unknown in my mind is whether they are clearly beneficial.” GW Pharma are also exploring new applications for Sativex, and the company are developing drugs that have different cannabis formulations. Whilst advocates of the new cannabis drugs might well be pleased about the progress that GW Pharma are making, opponents of marijuana could well see this as a way to get legalised cannabis onto our streets.
*Marinol® is a synthetic version of a naturally occurring compound known as delta-9-THC found in marijuana. Delta-9-THC stimulates appetite and reduces nausea and vomiting by binding to special receptors found in the nervous system. It is a unique prescription medicine that relieves multiple symptoms. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Marinol® to treat nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy in patients who have failed to respond adequately to conventional treatments. The FDA also approved Marinol® to treat appetite loss associated with weight loss in people with AIDS. Health care professionals may prescribe Marinol® to help stimulate an HIV/AIDS patient’s appetite so he or she will want to eat again.