Thousands of British people will 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.
The Times reports that medical regulators have authorised the UK’s first study of pure cannabis for those suffering from chronic pain caused by illnesses such as arthritis.
5,000 individuals will 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.
It will begin this month with a 100-patient “feasibility study” to ensure safety, with a total of 5,000 patients expected to join in the experiment through LVL Health chronic pain clinics.
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.
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!”