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Cannabis 'dramatically improves pain relief' [03.09.2001]

By BBC News Online's Helen Briggs

Results from Britain's first clinical trial of cannabis as a medicine show that it has a dramatic impact on controlling patients' pain.

Some individuals who were suffering chronic pain reported that cannabis had changed their lives, said consultant anaesthetist William Notcutt, of James Paget Hospital, Norfolk.

"I hope it will not be long before this new medicine can be used much more widely."
Dr William Notcutt

"Several patients experienced a dramatic improvement in the pain they were experiencing," he said.

"We've had some patients say: `This is brilliant, it stopped my pain in its tracks'."

Mixed results

Several trials of medical extracts of cannabis are underway in the UK. Dr Notcutt is studying the effects of the drug on chronic pain in patients with multiple sclerosis and spinal injuries.

Speaking at the British Association Festival of Science in Glasgow, Dr Notcutt said the majority of the 23 patients studied so far had experienced pain relief from using the drug.

In other patients, the only benefit was that they were able to sleep at night, he said.

Two experienced no benefit at all, and another two complained of side effects, with one having to withdraw from the trial.

'Going well'

Dr Notcutt said the results of the trial were "going well" and he hoped to publish the full research next year.

"I hope it will not be long before this new medicine can be used much more widely," he told the BBC. "We need to study this in many more patients than we have done so far."

The extracts being tested were taken from special plants grown in the UK by GW Pharmaceuticals.

The drugs are self-administered using an under-the tongue spray.

Other possible medical applications of cannabis extracts include pain relief for cancer, nerve damage and rheumatoid arthritis, said Dr Notcutt.