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News (Media Awareness Project) - UK: Wire: The Man Most Likely To Succeed At Going To Pot
Title:UK: Wire: The Man Most Likely To Succeed At Going To Pot
Published On:1998-06-15
Source:Scripps Howard News Service
Fetched On:2008-09-07 08:15:20

LONDON -- The British government has issued its first license allowing
significant clinical trials of cannabis as a medicine. GW Pharmaceuticals,
run by the colorful Geoffrey Guy, has been given permission to grow cannabis
and prepare standardized extracts to be tested on patients.

Guy explained why past efforts to treat people with the drug had been
unsatisfactory. ``You cannot conduct a proper pharmaceutical program if you
have to go and buy the stuff behind the bike sheds.''

Several countries have decriminalized personal use of cannabis, many
university studies have been conducted to show its beneficial therapeutic
effects and a number of doctors have advised patients to use it.

The British Home Office has 19 licenses extant for various forms of cannabis
research, chiefly pharmacological studies. The problem is the lack of any
large-scale quality-controlled supply.

The potential market for a cannabis-based drug is large. The first uses to
which it is likely to be put are relieving the symptoms of multiple
sclerosis; preventing nausea in people undergoing chemotherapy; and
stimulating the appetite of people undergoing AIDS therapies. It may also be
beneficial in treating a range of other conditions, including arthritis,
anorexia, asthma and epilepsy.

Most big British pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to get too involved,
partly because of the public image difficulties -- especially among
companies with significant U.S. shareholders.

Another problem is that cannabis is a plant rather than a chemical. To
produce an approved pharmaceutical, a company must grow and process the
plant in a controlled manner -- an activity few pharmaceutical companies are
familiar with.

Guy is familiar with plant-based medicines. He worked at Pierre Farbre, in
France, which specializes in the products, and helped to found Phytopharm,
the British group developing a treatment for eczema from Chinese herbs.

Some individual chemicals derived from cannabis have been synthesized and
licensed both in Britain and the U.S. for medical purposes.

Dr. Bill O'Neill, the British Medical Association's science adviser, said
that one particular cannabinoid, nabilone, had been available in Britain
since the early 1980s for treating nausea associated with chemotherapy. It
was developed in the U.S., however, and is relatively little used, having
been overtaken by more effective remedies.

One problem with these products is that they are developed as pills -- which
has proved relatively ineffective. The traditional delivery mechanism,
smoking, is unacceptable medically. Instead, GW Pharmaceuticals must use
more efficient systems such as inhalers. Also, Guy believes synthetic
cannabinoids can never match the full effects of cannabis, which depend on
the combination of chemicals in the plant.

Getting the best possible mix of chemicals is one of the challenges facing
GW Pharmaceuticals. Working with HortaPharm to maximize the therapeutic
effects while minimizing the ``side-effects'' -- the effects most criminal
users seek.

Researchers who favor the medical use of cannabis believe it could be the
first step on the road to decriminalizing the drug. O'Neill, however, argued
that did not follow.

Guy agrees. He admits that the medical and psycho-active elements of
cannabis can never be entirely separated, but says the medical profession
has had marked success in using morphine as a painkiller while minimizing
its addictive qualities.

But a side-effect of his work is likely to be evidence that cannabis is
safe. The British Home Office has implicitly accepted this point in granting
his license, something which can only add to the pressure to change
government policy in other ways.

Checked-by: Melodi Cornett
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