Cannabis trials start at NNUH

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is taking part in a national study to test whether cannabis extract taken in pill form can help to slow the progress of multiple sclerosis (MS).

The trial will involve 20 patients who will 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.

There are currently around 1000 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 inpact on a patient's longterm disability. A smaller proportion of patients have progressive symptoms right from the begining. 

 “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.” said NNUH neurology consultant Dr Martin Lee.

Patients taking part in the trial are aged from 18 to 65 and must conform to a strict set of criteria – for instance, their disease should not be so advanced that they need to use a wheelchair. Unfortunately trial numbers are limited but if the trial proves positive the medication may become available to a larger number of patients.

Previous trials have involved a spray containing cannabis extract for symptom control. It is hoped that this larger national study, using a synthetically manufactured form of the drug, may show that the progress of disability could be slowed down in some patients.

Known as the CUPID Study, it will involve 500 patients in at least 20 health centres across the UK. Patients will attend NNUH every six months and will undergo clinical assessment and MRI scans to check on the progress of their disease.

“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,” said Dr Lee. 

One of the first patients to try the new cannabis drug is Mr Geoffrey Harris, from North Cove near Lowestoft, who was diagnosed with MS five years ago. As a mechanical service engineer, Mr Harris travelled the world with his job and was devastated when his illness forced him to give up.

Now 51, he is an active member of an MS support group in Lowestoft and is delighted to be taking part in the new cannabis trial: “I think it's brilliant theat the trial is taking place,” 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.”

Thursday 19th of October 2006 09:00:05 AM