MS patients set to trial cannabis pill

MARK NICHOLLS Patients from across Norfolk are to take part in a national study to test whether cannabis extract can help to slow the progress of multiple sclerosis.

MARK NICHOLLS

Patients from across Norfolk are to take part in a national study to test whether cannabis extract can help to slow the progress of multiple sclerosis.

The trial will involve 20 patients from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital who will take the extract in pill form and be closely monitored over a three-and-half-year period.

Two-thirds of the patients will receive the drug, while the remaining third will be given a placebo.

The trial patients have already been earmarked and one of the first patients to try the new cannabis drug will be Geoffrey Harris, from North Cove near Lowestoft, who was diagnosed with MS five years ago.

He said: “The new drug may not be the be all and end all but at least it's an attempt to do something to help. Anything that can make inroads into this condition has got to be good. It is not going to stop the progression but I am hoping it will slow it down and that will be a godsend to anybody living with this disabling condition.”

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An active member of an MS support group in Lowestoft, Mr Harris, 51, travelled the world with his job as a mechanical engineer and was devastated when his illness forced him to give up. But he added: “I think it's brilliant that the trial is taking place. It is well known that cannabis can have a bad effect on people who become addicted for the wrong reasons but if there is good that can come from it in this way, then so be it.”

Mr Harris, who lives with wife Amanda and son Oliver, 10, at North Cove, Lowestoft, begins the trial on November 9.

There are currently around 1,000 MS patients living in Norfolk. Most sufferers initially have the relapsing and remitting form of the disease but the majority will eventually develop the progressive form, which tends to have the most impact on long-term disability. A smaller proportion of patients have progressive symptoms right from the beginning.

N&N neurology consultant Dr Martin Lee said: “There are some drug therapies now available for patients with relapsing and remitting MS but we still have no proven therapy for patients with progressive disease. This study is aimed at patients with progressive MS.”

Patients taking part in the trial are aged from 18 to 65 and must conform to a strict set of criteria - such as their disease not being so advanced that they need to use a wheelchair. Trial numbers are limited but if it proves positive the medication may become available to a larger number of patients.

In total the study will involve 500 patients in at least 20 health centres across the UK. Patients will attend the N&N every six months and will undergo clinical assessment and MRI scans to check on the progress of their disease. Dr Lee added: “We are keeping an open mind and it will be very interesting to see how the trial goes over the next three and a half years.”

Four years ago, another trial of cannabis-based medication was held in Norfolk and produced evidence of its painkilling potential.

The research was carried out by Dr Willy Notcutt at his pain clinic at the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston and focused on 34 patients with multiple sclerosis spinal cord injury and other conditions causing severe pain, who had not responded well to current medications.

When they were treated with the cannabis-based medication 28 said it had reduced pain and helped them to sleep better Each patient was treated with three different types of medication containing different levels of the active ingredients of cannabis.

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