Multiple sclerosis patients in Britain can look forward to some relief, as a cannabis-based medicine is being made available to them for the first time, following approval from the Home Office for its importation from Canada.
Patients in Britain will soon be able to obtain an unlicensed, cannabis-based medicine on prescription to treat multiple sclerosis and possibly rheumatoid arthritis even though it is yet to be licensed in the UK. The Home Office has allowed the mouth spray drug to be imported for individual patients in exceptional cases, provided their clinician believes they will benefit.
The Home Office has agreed to requests from doctors and patients to allow Sativex to be imported from Canada, where it has been on sale since late June. The oral spray derived from the cannabis plant will be available on prescription for around £4 a day. Research indicates that it relieves the pain and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.
The drug, Sativex, is made by GW Pharmaceuticals from a combination of plant extracts using nearly equal measures of tetrahydrocannibol (THC) and cannabidiol, also present in cannabis. The Home Office sanctioned imports from Canada.
GW Pharmaceuticals is seeking a licence in Britain to use the drug to treat spasticity - painful stiffness linked to MS - but regulators want more proof that it works.
Mike O'Donovan, chief executive of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, said: "Many people ... will now have the opportunity to try a new drug which could significantly improve their quality of life. We very much hope it will not be long before it is licensed for NHS prescription."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "It is vital that we ensure that drugs are safe before they are used in the NHS. It is for this reason that Jane Kennedy, the health minister, has referred Sativex to the Commission on Human Medicines to determine its safety, quality and efficacy."