`Sickness and spasms ... then cannabis changed my life'

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A major advertising campaign to have cannabis legalised for medical use is being launched to coincide with a British Medical Association report, due in the summer, that is likely to recommend trials of the drug for multiple sclerosis sufferers.

Press advertisements have been produced by a group of volunteers from the advertising industry and a number of magazines have pledged free advertising space for them to run.

The campaign is hopeful that the advertisement will appear in magazines read by "opinion formers", such as the New Statesman and Spectator. An appeal has also gone out to national newspapers to provide free space.

The advertisements, which were revealed by the advertising industry's magazine, Campaign, this week, have been created free by Chris Aldhouse, a former copywriter with McCann Erickson, for the Alliance for Cannabis Therapeu- tics (ACT). He became interested in the campaign because of a friendship with an multiple sclerosis sufferer.

The ACT is also to get financial support from the multi-millionaire financier George Soros who has expressed support for such medical campaigns in the past.

The ACT, which has been running for four years, has been planning the campaign for six months.

It wants doctors to be permitted to prescribe cannabis to sufferers of multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, Aids and sufferers of inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.

The BMA, which has been working on its report for 18 months, is thought likely to recommend that more trials are needed before cannabis treatment should be extended. Cancer suffers in the United Kingdom can already be prescribed a synthetic form of cannabis, Nabilone, to help with nausea during chemotherapy.

There are six advertisements, including the slogan: "Muscle spasm, continual sickness, uncontrollable bedwetting, and sudden loss of balance ... and then cannabis changed my life." The advertisements also ask why heroin is legal in prescribed form but not cannabis.

Dr Roger Pertwee, of the University of Aberdeen, who has contributed to the BMA report, is planning a clinical trial into the effect of Nabilone on MS sufferers. He believes that legalisation for medicinal purposes should be allowed even without comprehensive clinical evidence.

"In an ideal world you would wait for clinical trials, but patients are already self-medicating. They are risking their health with non-medical supplies of cannabis as well as arrest. It would be much better for them to take their cannabis under medical supervision," he said.

The ACT was founded by Clare Hodges, a Leeds mother- of-two who suffers from MS. It received a fillip last November when voters in California and Arizona approved ballot proposals that cannabis be legalised for medical treatment.

In the United States, the issue has been driven by Aids pressure groups, such as the Cannabis Cultivators' Club in San Francisco. Cannabis has helped Aids patients recover their appetite and reverse weight-loss caused by the condition.

However, the ACT emphasises that it is campaigning for cannabis to be prescribed only medicinally by doctors.

In California, prescriptions supplied by doctors allow the Cannabis Cultivators' Club to sell it to be smoked or put in spaghetti sauce.