The Evening Post has been running a series “Cannabis: Medicine or Menace” looking at the debate surrounding the healing powers of the drug.
AASMA DAY talks to GW Pharmaceuticals, the company manufacturing medicine from cannabis and researching its potentials as a treatment
“Cannabis has been used as a medicine since Ancient Egyptian and Chinese times and in Victorian days, Queen Victoria used to take a tincture of cannabis.”
Mark Rogerson, spokesman for GW Pharmaceuticals, the company based near Salisbury that manufactures the cannabis derived medicine Sativex says the beneficial side of cannabis has been known about for a long time.
However, he says attitudes towards the illegal drug changed and now things have come full circle as people are starting to realise its positive side again.
He explains: “In the 1970s, the illegal drug was very much demonised by President Nixon in the States and the rest of the world followed suit.
“Then in the 1990s, researchers started thinking about deriving a legal medicine from cannabis.
“GW as a company started in the late 1990s and was set up specifically to examine the possibility of deriving medicine from cannabis.
“At that time, a lot of researchers were re-visiting cannabis. Dr Geoffrey Guy, chairman of GW, approached the Home Office and said he would like to conduct clinical trials through the formal process.
“These trials take several years. What the Government was keen to do was put blue water in between the illegal use of herbal cannabis and the legal use of an approved medicine.
“We now have the situation where Sativex is a medicine which is derived from cannabinoids, the active ingredient of cannabis.
“In 2010, it was licensed in the UK.”
Sativex is a cannabinoid medicine for the treatment of spasticity (muscle spasm) due to multiple sclerosis.
However, Mr Rogerson says there is lots of research going on, not only to see if Sativex can treat other health conditions but to examine whether other cannabinoids can be used to develop different medicines.
He says: “There are more than 80 cannabinoids in cannabis. We have looked in detail at about 20 of them.
“Sativex contains two cannabinoids, so the scope for other medical conditions is huge.
“We are looking at anentirely different medication also derived from cannabis to treat childhood epilepsy.
“We are also looking at cancer and the possibility of treating certain types of tumours.
“There is a wide range of research going on and some of it is in its early stages.
“There are a lot of different types of cannabinoids and lots of different kinds of cancer.
“We are looking at other possible conditions to treat with Sativex and other medication.
“There will be ongoing research for many years to come.”
Mr Rogerson says that it is disappointing that some patients who could benefit from Sativex are struggling to get reimbursed for it as they can’t get it on the NHS.
He says: “Sativex is now approved and available in more than 25 countries around the world.
“You can get it reimbursed in Wales.
“So I think it is a terrible shame that patients in the country where the medicine was developed are sometimes having difficulty getting reimbursement.”