The Medical Research Council stated yesterday it would be prepared to rush through funding for the trials, involving more than 1,000 people, provided the necessary legal clearance was obtained from the Home Office and the Medicines Control Agency, the Government's licensing authority for prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
Protocols for the tests will be decided at a meeting on 11 January to be attended by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the council and the Department of Health. The tests are expected to take place in the spring. The agency will advise the scientists on the legal and regulatory aspects of the trials.
The initial tests are expected to cost up to pounds 500,000 each. A spokeswoman for the council said: "Rather than wait for our normal funding reviews we do have the necessary powers to expedite special payments as in the case of BSE and CJD. Obviously this will be dependent on the tests getting approval."
The trials are expected to look at spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients, chronic pain for dying cancer patients and acute pain in patients after operations. Multiple sclerosis sufferers will receive the currently used treatment for controlling muscle spasms, a second set will be given tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a cannabis derivative thought to have an anti-sickness effect and a third group will be given standard cannabis plant material. THC is not legally available in Britain. However, the Home Office and the council have agreed to authorise exemption to allow the trials to take place.
Last month the House of Lords backed the use of cannabis for medical use and recommended a change in the law after an eight-month inquiry. Last week the Prince of Wales asked a multiple sclerosis sufferer if she had tried cannabis for pain relief.Reuse content