MS sufferers welcome first licensed cannabis based drug
The first licensed medical drug containing whole cannabis plant extracts has been launched to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Sativex will be made widely available after it was approved by the medicines regulator last week.
Taken as a mouth spray, it is used to help alleviate symptoms of spasticity – involuntary muscle stiffness and spasms – associated with MS and is said to be the first symptom relief drug specifically for those with the condition.
It is the first cannabinoid medicine derived from whole plant extracts of the cannabis sativa plant, and is only the second cannabinoid drug to be licensed by the Medicines and Health care products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Cannabis is a Class B drug and using it for medicinal purposes remains illegal in the UK.
But doctors can prescribe Sativex to MS patients experiencing the spasms and cramping associated with spasticity.
MS charities welcomed the regulator’s approval of the drug, which was developed by UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals.
Pam Macfarlane, chief executive of the MS Trust, described today’s launch as a milestone.
She said: “We have been aware for a long time, based on comments from people with MS, that cannabis-based medicines can significantly improve spasticity, which is a common, complex symptom of MS.
“For this reason, the MS Trust has campaigned for the availability of a licensed medicine that can be properly controlled and prescribed.”
She added: “The launch of Sativex is a milestone for the NHS and the MS Trust and we are delighted. It will now be down to specialist professionals to assess people and we hope that this can happen quickly.”
Ed Holloway, head of care and services research at the Multiple Sclerosis Society, said: “Sativex can help alleviate one of the most distressing symptoms of MS and its licensing is good news for people with progressive forms of the condition, for whom drugs and therapies are sparse.
“We’d like to see it made available to anybody who might benefit.”
Doctors have been able to prescribe the drug to named individuals at their own risk since 2006, the Home Office said.
About 2,000 people in the UK are already prescribed it on this basis but any MS patient will now be able to request a prescription for the drug from their doctor, meaning many more will be able to obtain it.
About 100,000 people in the UK have MS, a condition of the central nervous system.
It is most often diagnosed in those aged between 20 and 40, with women nearly twice as likely to develop it as men.
It can cause a wide range of symptoms besides spasticity, including fatigue, visual problems, cognitive problems and mood changes.
The only other MHRA-approved drug containing cannabinoid – a compound found in cannabis – is Nabilone, which was licensed in February 1995 for the treatment of nausea and vomiting suffered by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Unlike Sativex, the cannabinoid’s it contains are synthetic.
Tags: Cannabis, drugs classification, Multiple Sclerosis, Risk of Drugs, Sativex