Clinicians from across the UK have now embarked on the world's first trial to investigate whether cannabis derivatives could play a role in slowing the progression of multiple sclerosis.
Evidence suggests that cannabis extracts may play a role in relieving the symptoms of MS, but previous trials led by Professor John Zajicek, of Peninsula Medical School and Derriford Hospital, also found evidence to suggest that one particular part of cannabis, called THC, might slow the development of the disease.
Now Professor Zajicek is leading a new three year study, funded by a £2 million grant from the Medical Research Council, with support from the MS Society, the MS Trust, and Peninsula Medical School, to evaluate whether the compound could be used as a treatment to slow the progression of disability.
Professor John Zajicek said: "This trial will build on our previous study which, coupled with our work in the laboratory, suggested that THC could have a protective effect on nerves.
Multiple Sclerosis is a very unpredictable disease. Currently there are few medicines which are effective in treating MS and none have been shown to have any effect in the progressive stages of the disease. If this study demonstrates that cannabinoids do have a longer term effect on the progression of disability, there are potentially far-reaching implications, not only for the health of people with MS, but also for those with other neurodegenerative conditions."
He continues: "We are looking to recruit 500 patients with progressive MS through 30 centres across the UK which will administer the drug and monitor patients progress through clinical measurements and questionnaires.
We hope that this study will further our understanding of the use of cannabinoids as a therapeutic treatment for MS."
The research follows on from a previous trial carried out by the same team, which focused on testing the symptomatic benefit from cannabinoids over a 15-week and 12-month period. While this study was taking place, experimental evidence came to light to suggest that delta9-THC, one of the drugs being tested, may have the potential to protect nerve cells.
The study is taking place in collaboration with Professor Alan Thompson at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (part of University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) and Institute of Neurology, University College London and 30 neurology and rehabilitation centres across the UK.
Participants are still required for the trial, anyone interested in taking part should call 0800 0153430 or email [email protected]
Around 85,000 people in the UK have MS which is a chronic disease of the nervous system and is the result of damage to myelin - a protective sheath surrounding nerve fibres of the central nervous system. When myelin is damaged, this interferes with messages between the brain and other parts of the body. More progressive forms of MS are thought to result from damage to nerve fibres. MS can affect any part of the central nervous system, often causing difficulties with walking, vision, sensation and balance.
The drug has been developed by Insys Therapeutics in the USA who donated tablets which will be centrally distributed from Derriford Hospital in Plymouth.