Letter: Cannabis trials

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Sir: Dr Bill O'Neill of the British Medical Association predicts that cannabis derivatives will be available legally for medical use within a few years. ("Straw's challenge over cannabis drugs", 5 January). This would return us to the position before the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, when doctors were allowed to prescribe cannabis, most often in tincture form.

On Saturday on BBC radio the Home Secretary said there was nothing to stop those who believe cannabis has therapeutic value from applying for a Home Office licence to test the drug. There are currently three licences allowing medical research with cannabis.

However, to satisfy the Government of the efficacy of cannabis, large- scale trials are needed using a controlled dose of the drug, and this cannot be done without the involvement of the pharmaceutical companies, who have been reluctant to touch cannabis because it is in schedule 1 of the 1971 Act - a category of controlled drugs with allegedly no therapeutic value.

We face a chicken-and-egg situation: the Government will not move cannabis from schedule 1 to schedule 2 (a prescribable drug with therapeutic value) until it can be shown to have a medical use. And this cannot be demonstrated to the Government's satisfaction without large-scale trials.

After reviewing the evidence - much of it admittedly small-scale or anecdotal - the BMA recognises that cannabis may have therapeutic uses for people suffering from conditions such as multiple sclerosis. The Government should now facilitate the large-scale trials that are needed.

GORDON PRENTICE MP

(Pendle, Lab)

House of Commons

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