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Celebrating 10 years

Cannabis-based medications tested for symptom relief in MS

10th October, 2012

Two recent trials in the UK have looked at the use of pharmaceutical drugs based on cannabis for the treatment of the symptoms of MS. Sativex is an oral spray that contains two ingredients derived from cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). It has previously shown promise in the treatment of muscle spasticity in the short term. A recent trial in the UK followed people taking Sativex over the longer term. This study was primarily looking to see if taking Sativex was safe over the longer time period and whether increased doses were needed to maintain effectiveness.

146 people continued to take Sativex for an average of 334 weeks. The participants were able to determine the dose themselves, with a maximum limit set at130mg of THC and 120mg of CBD. 14% of participants experienced adverse side effects, most were mild or moderate and included dizziness and fatigue. Five people reported serious side effects. 9% of participants stopped the trial because Sativex did not help their spasticity. However, those who continued to the end of the trial did not have an increase in symptoms. The effect of Sativex did not diminish over time with participants reporting continued benefit.

The MUSEC trial (Multiple Sclerosis and Extract of Cannabis) was a Phase III trial across 22 UK centres which used a single active ingredient of cannabis, THC. 144 participants with stable MS took 5-25mg of the cannabis extract over 12 weeks and were compared with 135 people in the placebo (dummy tablet) arm. No new safety concerns were identified and side effects were consistent with cannabinoid treatment.

The changes were measured by self-reported questionnaire and showed that the rate of relief for muscle stiffness was almost twice as high in people taking cannabis extract compared with placebo at the end of the study. A reduction in muscle stiffness was also seen at intermediate time points during the trial. There were similar improvements in body pain, spasms and sleep quality.

It was recently reported that THC did not show any benefit in slowing the progression of MS in a clinical trial to test the potential neuroprotective effects of cannabis extracts, for details [click here], however these two new studies provide further evidence that cannabis extracts may be useful in managing symptoms for some people with MS.

Sativex is currently licenced for the treatment of muscle stiffness in the UK, Spain and Canada. No pharmaceutical drugs based on cannabis are currently licenced for use in Australia.

  • To read the abstract from the Sativex clinical trial please [click here]
  • To read the abstract from the MUSEC clinical trial please [click here]