Thousands of British people could be given cannabis for pain treatment as part of a clinical experiment that might lay the groundwork for millions of people to be able to access the medicine through the NHS.
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The initial "feasibility study", which is being conducted by private cannabis clinic LVL Health, will first enrol 100 patients before moving on with plans to perform a bigger experiment that has yet to be approved by the National Health Research Authority (HRA).
This proposed larger-scale research involves 5,000 individuals who would use inhalers that deliver cartridges containing a calibrated amount of "whole flower" unprocessed cannabis on a daily basis for at least a year.
Although the United Kingdom has yet to authorise any "whole-plant" cannabis medicines for medicinal use, nations such as Australia, Germany, Canada, and Israel have already done so.
The trial, called "Canpain", is accessible to participants aged 18 to 85 who have been diagnosed with non-cancer chronic pain and will run for the next three years.
The cannabis is given using tamper-proof capsules in vaping devices and costs £299 per month per patient. To assess if cannabis leads to a substantial reduction in pain, the participants will be compared to a control group of 5,000 individuals of comparable age, sex, and health who will receive conventional pain treatment.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) will review this information before deciding whether cannabis should be licenced as an NHS medication for up to 15 million persons.
According to recent government data, one in every three persons in England suffers from chronic pain, which is defined as discomfort that lasts longer than three months.
It can be caused by a variety of illnesses such as arthritis, back pain, or fibromyalgia, but there are few therapeutic options available outside powerful and addictive opioid medicines.
In 2018, medicinal cannabis was legalised in the United Kingdom, and three medications containing cannabis extracts were licenced for use on the NHS. Epidyolex, a highly pure liquid containing CBD, is used to treat a rare kind of epilepsy, although just a few people have got NHS prescriptions.
Marijuana, according to researchers, might be a safer alternative to opioids and prevent individuals from "self-medicating" by purchasing illegal cannabis from drug dealers.
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A spokesperson for the HRA told CannabisHealth magazine: “The Health Research Authority has reviewed and approved the CANPAIN feasibility study. The small study, involving 100 patients, intends to help the research team understand how best to conduct a clinical trial in the future.
“Any clinical trial would need HRA Approval, and Clinical Trials Authorisation from the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Despite reports to the contrary, the HRA has not approved a clinical trial to investigate the use of cannabis for pain relief.”
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Tony Samios, from the private firm LVL Health, which is running the trial, said: “Doctors are very limited in what they can prescribe [for chronic pain]. The only course of treatment they really have is opioids, unfortunately. So patients tend to seek other forms of pain management and alternative treatments that could be anything from acupuncture to physiotherapy.
“There is a great desire for patients who want cannabis prescribed on the NHS … something like one and a half million patients in the UK are buying illicit cannabis off the streets, self-medicating with a poor quality product and having to deal with drug dealers.”
This news was taken well by many in the industry including cannabis and CBD journalist Ruby Deevoy who tweeted: "Well this is absolutely fantastic! Whole plant cannabis is being trialled for chronic pain in 5000 patients, potentially paving the way for access on the NHS for over a million people!"
Well this is absolutely fantastic! Whole plant cannabis being trialled for chronic pain in 5000 patients, potentially paving the way for access on the NHS 💚 for over a million people!! https://t.co/FEV6dMudxT— Ruby Deevoy (@RDeevoy) April 6, 2022
Aneesa Ahmed is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter