Cannabis treatment trials encouraging

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A company growing thousands of cannabis plants for therapeutic use today said the first study in which volunteers took extracts of the drug had shown encouraging results.

A company growing thousands of cannabis plants for therapeutic use today said the first study in which volunteers took extracts of the drug had shown encouraging results.

The pilot Phase One study involved just six healthy individuals and was intended to pave the way for larger patient trials.

GW Pharmaceuticals, which is cultivating cannabis under a special Home Office licence, said although the study had been completed analysis of the data was continuing.

Dr Geoffrey Guy, the company's chairman, said: "All the subjects came through very well, and we were very pleased with the study. Now we have a much better idea of what our starting point should be."

He said no results would be disclosed until publication in a scientific journal. This will probably have to wait until the completion of the next phase.

Dr Guy personally potted GW Pharmaceuticals' 20,000th cannabis plant on August 24 this year. The plants are housed in a highly secure and environmentally controlled glasshouse at a secret location in the Home Counties.

The company hopes to produce cannabis treatments mainly to relieve pain and dysfunction caused by nerve damage.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that compounds extracted from the drug could benefit sufferers of Multiple Sclerosis, spinal cord injury, arthritis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome as well as a number of other problems.

In the pilot study, conducted at an anonymous clinical pharmacology unit, volunteers were given cannabis extracts either from an inhaler or via liquid under the tongue.

The main aim was to assess how well the treatments were tolerated and obtain an initial idea of the optimum dosage.

Heart rate, temperature and respiration were monitored and blood samples taken for analysis. In addition each volunteer went through a battery of cognitive and psychometric tests.

Dr Guy said: "We have been able to define and follow through the psychoactive effects. None of the effects is disturbing, or would be classed in a clinical trial as serious."

He said patients did not need to "get high" to gain a therapeutic benefit. In fact psychoactive effects appeared to indicate an overdose.

If approved by the regulatory authorities, the second phase trials would commence next year. They will involve up to two or three hundred patients with MS, spinal cord injury, and phantom limb pain, said Dr Guy.

By the end of the final Phase Three trials a total of around 2,000 patients will have taken part. The main studies should be completed in 2002.

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