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A BRITISH drug firm is carrying out clinical research trials in Ireland to determine the effectiveness of a cannabis extract in controlling severe cancer-related pain.
GW Pharmaceuticals, a market leader in pioneering the use of medicines containing cannabis extract, has received a licence from the Irish Medicines Board under the Control of Clinical Trials Acts 1987 and 1990.
The board refused to make any comment on the trials, saying the information was “commercially sensitive”.
Cannabis is a schedule one controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act and is subject to tight restrictions in its prescription and use similar to narcotics such as heroin and morphine.
However, licences can be granted for research and, in the case of certain low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) plant varieties of cannabis, for the growing of hemp.
There have been calls both here and in Britain to allow its medical use to treat patients suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and motor neurone disease.
GW Pharmaceuticals is undertaking similar clinical trials in Britain. The company has developed a cannabis-based medicine called Sativex which has been found to help multiple sclerosis patients cope with spasms and stiffness, both common symptoms of the disease.
Sativex, which lists a cannabis extract containing THC and cannabidiol as its principal components, is administered using a mouth spray. Regulatory approval is being sought in Britain and Canada.
The drug is also being tested with cancer patients. The company says about 40% of cancer sufferers at present “have unmet needs in pain suppression”.
In Britain, cannabis was reclassified and downgraded in January last year with the result that most cases of possession are now a non-arrestable offence. However, new studies suggest a strong link between the drug and mental illness.
Charles Clarke, the British home secretary, has now asked the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to consider whether the fresh research should mean a rethink.