home
RSS
June 21st, 2010
02:15 PM ET

World's first fully approved cannabis drug on sale in UK

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

A medication called Sativex has become the first drug fully approved for multiple sclerosis that is made from natural cannabis.

The United Kingdom's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency approved the drug, an oral spray, on Friday, and it went on sale in the country on Monday. The drug has been available in Canada on a limited basis since 2005 for the relief of neuropathic pain and advanced cancer pain, and also to a small number of patients in Spain. It is expected to be approved more broadly in Spain later this year.

Sativex is approved by prescription only for multiple sclerosis patients in the U.K. It targets the effects of spasticity, a symptom of multiple sclerosis caused by damage to nerves in the central nervous system. Loss of mobility and painful spasms may result from this involuntary stiffening of muscles.

The drug is sprayed into the mouth on the inside of the cheek or under the tongue, said Bayer Schering Pharma, the pharmaceutical company launching the product. Cannabis plants grown in a controlled environment give rise to the extracts that are the active ingredients of the drug.

The Multiple Sclerosis Trust, a U.K. charity, supported the launch of this medication.

In clinical trials, only about half of study participants with multiple sclerosis found that it relieved spasms and cramping associated with spasticity. For this sort of research, that's a good result, said Mark Rogerson, spokesman for GW Pharmaceuticals, which developed the drug.

There is no evidence of long-term dependence or tolerance; patients have not reported needing to take more of the spray, and many say they've reduced the dose over time, Rogerson said. Common side effects include dizziness and fatigue.

The cost is 125 British pounds for a pack of the spray,  or about $185, which works out to 11 pounds per day, or about $16, for the average patient, Rogerson said.

In the United States, the only medical marijuana treatment available is a prescription drug called Marinol, whose active ingredient is synthetic THC - making it distinct from the natural cannabis plant extracts in Sativex. In the U.S., cancer patients may take Marinol to relieve nausea and vomiting side effects of chemotherapy, and AIDS patients may use it to help with loss of appetite, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Marinol comes in the form of a pill, although other delivery methods such as inhaler or patch, are being explored.

Sativex is in phase II clinical trials for cancer patients in the U.S., Rogerson said. He estimated that it will be about two years before it could get U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

Rogerson noted a difference in the political climate surrounding medical marijuana in the two nations.

"U.K. public opinion is quite ready for a cannabis-based medicine. There’s really very little sense of, 'Oh gosh it’s cannibis, it’s a bad thing,'" he said. "People understand that it’s different from recreational drug-taking, and also that it’s a treatment for a number of people who suffer from a very, very debilitating illness."


Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


soundoff (88 Responses)
  1. Joe Portoles

    I also suffer from ms, when i do smoke it does ease the pain, just waiting for new york to pass this or i have to move to any other state to get my script from a doctor

    June 22, 2010 at 00:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Don

    One Small Step For Man. One Giant Leap For Mankind! Those of you who live with unrelenting pain know exactly what I am saying. Why not take the number one cash cow away from the criminals who kill and threaten, even if the US Government does not produce it or sell it. Why pay a drug dealer when you would be able to grow your own?

    June 22, 2010 at 01:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. tpod

    actually, i can attest to the powerful relief it delivers to nerve pain. of all the things i have been able to use for my own medical issues, marijuana has given me the best, and most complete relief.

    June 22, 2010 at 01:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Kiff

    My wife's grandmother was a staunch Christian woman from the upper Midwest. She never took a drink and never smoked a cigarette in her life, and did not allow her sons to own a deck of playing cards while they were growing up – pure sin!

    In her old age, she complained of terrible nausea and lack of appetite from her various "modern" medications, and often complained that she couldn't get some of "the old-time stomach remedy", that she remembered from childhood. It was a plant her parents grew in the garden, and their parents before. I'm not sure she ever knew that it was the same thing as the "devil weed" that the negro field hands smoked.

    "The old stomach remedy" was cannabis, usually given in oral form, but sometimes smoked. My dad's family in the Ozarks swore by it, too.

    Remember, 90 years ago there WAS no Pepto-Bismol, no antibiotics, no treatment for severe nausea or other stomach pain. Poor people used what worked. If you wanted to save your child from wasting away from a serious intestinal infection, you gave them pot. It worked, and it was safe – safer than most of the fast-food garbage we feed our kids now.

    Legalize it. Now. Stop messing around. There is no evidence whatsoever that marijuana is a "harmful" drug, and much evidence to the contrary. I should be permitted to smoke anything that I can grow in my back yard.

    June 22, 2010 at 02:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. H Stone

    this is the reason why cannibis will never be legalized. Big Pharm wants to profit and they will never relinquish control, or allow the governemtn to allow patients to simply grow their own in their own back yards...that is counterproductive for them.

    June 22, 2010 at 03:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Daniel Barreiros

    MJ is still illegal because of the idiots we vote into our government.I have suffered from horrible back problems for 15 years after a terrible car accident,for a majority of those 15 years I smoked MJ while living in (NY), and unfortunately had to stop a few years ago because of the horrible state I now live in (GA).I now truley understand the benefits as a pain reliever,and only pray everyday that this stinking government truly does try to help it's citizens by legalizing MJ.But for now I am stuck eating pain killers that ruin my stomach and make me sicker but are legal.

    June 22, 2010 at 03:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. James Craig

    As a cancer patient all I can say is marjuana helped me get through the problems associated with chemo. It soothed me much better than the pills I was prescribed (which cost $70.00 each).

    June 22, 2010 at 07:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Scott

    On the MJ is a bad drug argument I would say that keeping it illegal forces teens and others to take what they can get their hands on. Most of the time its alcohol and prescription medication. People want to feel euphoria and if not MJ than whatever else is around. Who are we kidding? If everything were illegal people would resort to sniffing glue, huffing gas, and experimenting with homemade substances. Keep MJ illegal, keep crooks rich, keep the country poor.

    June 22, 2010 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. jf

    Maria, please do some research before spreading your lies. There are plenty of studies that have disproved that there is a link between cancer and cannabis, cannabis actually retards the growth of cancer cells. Cannabis was even used as a treatment for emphysema and asthma patients prior to the marijuana tax act, when it was legal for doctors to prescribe to patients for 100s of ailments. All these benefits for an illegal plant that is no more addictive than table sugar, coffee or fast food. Go figure…

    June 22, 2010 at 10:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Becky B

    I suffer from a painful neurological syndrome that causes similar problems as MS. I have been following the studies & news regarding Sativex for several years now and see this as a fantastic advance for those of us in need of RELIABLE Pain/Spasticity relief.
    I am a medical professional and have done my own "Private" studies regarding Cannabis/THC & I can tell you from personal experience that it MOST CERTAINLY DOES WORK AS A PAIN RELIEVER AND AS AN ANTISPASMODIC. Also, side effects are mild compared to Narcotics & Muscle relaxers.

    June 22, 2010 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Ryan

    I live in a state where medical marijuana is legal. I came down with MS about 10 years ago and suffer from pain due to the demyelination of nerve cells in my foot. Because of the pain, I've had to limp as I walk (to try to reduce the pressure against my foot... the more weight I put on my foot, the worse the pain is. Just fyi, because of not using my one leg as much, I now have one visibly skinnier leg than the other. That kind of sucks.) About 6 months ago I got my permit to legally grow and use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Within 1 minute of using it, the pain in my foot was completely gone. I don't understand how marijuana does it, but it works. I also get sciatic nerve pain every few months... it lasts for about 4 days, then goes away. marijuana does not help with that. I scratched my arm going down some stairs a few days ago and it did not help with that kind of pain either. But for some reason, the pain associated with the demyelination of nerve cells that many people who have ms suffer from is completely controlled by marijuana. I don't even have to get high from it to work, although I'm sure it would still work if I were. I take a very small amount of marijuna... the size of half of a green pea, and that's enough to take away the pain for a few hours. I liken it to alcohol. If you have 2 drinks of wine, you're not drunk, but you may feel a little warm and relaxed. Same is true with marijuana. You can take a lot and get high, or you can take a little and not get high. The small amount mentioned above (14% THC level) is comparable to 4 drinks of wine (ALC 13% by vol)... so I'm not getting high, I'm able to focus on work, college, AND my wife and kids... all while enjoying a better life without pain in my foot. Side effects include, of course, fatigue and dry eyes. I don't even get the dry mouth that one would get with smoking larger doses of marijuana... and I know what I'm talking about because I smoked marijuana frequently and recreationally for about ten years... but that was about 20 years ago.

    June 22, 2010 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Darlene

    This is excellant news...also I knew nothing of a similar product
    available in Canada.
    I use cannabis for pain relief for multiple ailments,something like this,legal would be a God send.The usual prescription pain relievers
    are dangerous therefore I avoid them..too addictive for my personal chioce..where as cannabis is not. It is time for more enlightened thinking in this area. Bravo!

    June 22, 2010 at 11:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Fred Evil

    "Smoking marijuana has the same effects as cigarette smoking such as emphysema, heart disease, and cancer. "

    Here's how I know you aren't a doctor, because your claim is NOT TRUE. Smoking cannabis does NOT cause cancer, heart disease, or emphysema. It CAN make your lungs more prone to chronic bronchitis, but NO, NO deadly ailments are associated with cannabis. Please feel free to post any documented scientific studies that disagree with my statement.

    June 22, 2010 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Mare

    I am a multiple sclerosis patient and suffer from extreme cramping and spasticity. I still work full-time but the good Lord only knows how much longer I will be able to before I am forced to go out on disability. I take pain killers, muscle relaxers, and anti-seizure medicine. I would rather take this one spray than the 3 of those. The U.S. is so afraid to admit that their "war on drugs" has failed and medical marijuana needs to be approved by all 50 states and the Feds. Why do we have to suffer when there is no need to? It's completely STUPID. It would reduce health care costs, not increase them!!

    June 22, 2010 at 11:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. AverydisciplinedMJsmoker

    To the Doctor's and others, the ones who always fall back on the fact that in order to gain the effects of MJ, it needs to be burned and results in the same inflammation of the lungs, cancer risks etc, as smoking a cigarette.

    Have you ever considered Vaporizers?

    Essentially, this is how it works. MJ is placed into a chamber and the temp is raised between 270 and 400 degrees. The THC oil is then turned into a vapor form and is able to be inhaled, resulting in 100% no burn. Check out this link for more info... http://vaporizor.com/vaporizor-benefits.html

    Why are some people so against natural medicines? Does the human ego prevent your ability to believe that nature might have a better cure than YOU or HIM or HER? We're all nature. Everything we have, even when pieced together in a lab is nature. Nothing exists here on Earth, independently of this planet. Even your synthetic materials, still come from NATURAL materials.

    Knowing what we already know about the positive effects of MJ for certain ailments...why try and discredit it? Why suppress it to the point that people believe it's literally evil? If you were truly about the advancement of the human race, you'd be willing to be free thinkers and look at the world through open eyes...

    Just allow yourself to think of the possibilities.

    Some strains of MJ show very distinct traits and those strains are used primarily for only certain kinds of treatments. Some for sleep disorders, some for appetite stimulation etc...wouldn't it make sense to study these effects? To isolate the particular part of the molecular structure of that particular THC strain and try to extract it and possibly make a medication that's 100% natural, that doesn't make the patient wanna scratch their eye balls out once they're off it??!?!?

    I should write my thesis on this...

    June 22, 2010 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Johnny D.

    @Mike Green – You cannot outright attack marijuana by saying legalization will make children smoke pot and go to school. Just because alcohol is legal doesn't mean children get drunk, and go running off to school. This being said, pot smoking does not correlate with working as a Fry cook at McDonald's. I've seen many of my friends become top executives at Fortune 500 companies, while smoking marijuana daily. I'm sure they are making a much higher salary than you are.

    June 22, 2010 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Jake McKenna

    It's about time we utilized cannabis to offer a wide ranging variety of natural remedies for the critically and chronicaly ill. Bravo.

    June 22, 2010 at 13:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Byrd

    I used marijuana during my two rounds of chemo for Hepititis C. For better or for worse, had I not, I wouldn't be here today. So sorry that the pharmaceutical companies didn't make their blood money off that as well as the interferon and Paxil that damn near killed me. So now, apparently, the drug companies appear poised to be gain the ability to market extracts and synthetics, but they adamantly object to allowing anyone to grow their own remedies in their back yard, with all of nature's built-in buffers intact. How would they ever profit from our deaths and illnesses otherwise...? Oh, woe is me...

    June 22, 2010 at 13:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Scott in NH

    I know someone who went down to 90 pounds and the doctors didn't think she would make it. After dozens of doctors, months in the hospital, dozens of tests and a few surgeries they finally tried medical marijuana and she was able to eat for the first time without vomiting and started to gain weight. So, basically it saved her life.

    Does our "zero tolerance" get tough policies have to be so all encompassing that we will let people die who need this because we can only see things in black and white terms? They are either all bad or all good?

    June 22, 2010 at 21:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Unbiased

    In hopes to clear some biased air in this discussion, I can say that THC fits a similar pathway to that of opiates. For all of you doctors out there who "over-dramatize" the permanent neurological impact of THC, I can break it down.

    The CB1(Cannabinoid) Receptor in the brain functions similarly to that of the Opiate Receptor which inhibits the release of GABA. This inhibition through ionic cascade, releases a larger amount of Dopamine. This increase in Dopamine release can be felt as a euphoria, depending on the concentration of Dopamine released via response.

    In non-scientific terms it can be stated that since THC and opiates impact neurotransmitters in a similar way, there is a similar end result (increased Dopamine release). If one is to create a stigma that THC is "extremely toxic", there should also be a claim which states how the opiates that are over-prescribed today (in extreme doses of course) react similarly.

    June 23, 2010 at 09:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. JK

    In response to Byrd. I was in a similar boat, but with my epilepsy. At first the stupid psychologist mis-diagnosed me with depression, I swear to get the blood money, because I was having a good time at college, and she put me on Paxil and the attacks (what I thought were panic attacks) went from 1 a day to 4-5 a day and that actually gave me depression. Later when I went to a neurologist they told me it was complex partial epilepsy and I have tried over 7 types of medication over the last ten years and numerous other diets and things to try to get it under control. But, there was only one thing that worked, but my neurologist couldn't tell me on the record about it because it is not legal in my state. The last year I was in college she told me to cut any drinking and that anytime I was feeling stressed or needed a rest (because I suffer from insomnia too) to prevent the siezures to just roll up a joint and by the time I am done smoking it I would feel fine. You know what she was 100% correct for a year and a half I went siezure free, but of course I had to stop that once I graduated and got a job. Why, can't these old timers just get their heads out of theis a$$es and realize that people have been using this as an herbal remedy since the beginning of time and the legalization of this will help a lot of other things: taxes; crime rate (think the dealers might not see themselves as losers and they can actually open up their own shop and won;t have to fight for territory all the time) Also, I found that it helped my alcoholism too, I don't think I would have been able to stop drinking if I wasn't able to use cannabis to ease off of it. People don't hurt other people when they are high, but they do all the time when they are drunk, but alcohol is legal, does that make sense? What's worse for your body, Vodka or a joint?

    June 23, 2010 at 09:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. thea

    MJ or not, anyone looking for natural medical approaches to dealing with MS, may also want to check out the links below:

    http://www.thisisms.com/ftopic-6755-days0-orderasc-120.html

    http://andrewkfletcher.com/

    June 23, 2010 at 11:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Aidan Webb

    the good thing about herbal remedies is that they do not have side effects.';,

    June 30, 2010 at 07:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Charles Davis

    my grandma always want herbal remedies because it has very few side effects.:`

    September 8, 2010 at 15:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Network Security :

    herbal remedies are the best! i have some sprains and some indigestion and herbal remedies cured it*~;

    October 23, 2010 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Event Management Courses

    i used to do herbal remedies when having some muscle pains and they are really quite effective `:"

    December 16, 2010 at 02:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. get ex gf back

    You actually make it seem so easy together with your presentation however I find this matter to be really something that I feel I'd by no means understand. It kind of feels too complicated and very wide for me. I am taking a look forward on your next submit, I will attempt to get the hang of it!

    August 22, 2011 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Arthur Hartry

    wow! good one Here's some mildly amuzing stuff I found: Thought for the day? : How about never? Is never good for you?

    September 8, 2011 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Edward Procil

    Just came across a brand new social networking website for medical cannabis. Looks excellent – http://www.weedpals.com

    October 16, 2011 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Wall Paint Colors

    hey there and thank you for your info – I have definitely picked up something new from right here. I did however expertise some technical issues using this website, as I experienced to reload the web site many times previous to I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if your hosting is OK? Not that I am complaining, but slow loading instances times will often affect your placement in google and can damage your quality score if advertising and marketing with Adwords. Anyway I am adding this RSS to my e-mail and can look out for a lot more of your respective fascinating content. Ensure that you update this again soon..

    December 24, 2011 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Edward Procil

    Just came across a brand new social networking site for medical cannabis. Looks good – http://www.weedpals.com

    January 3, 2012 at 21:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. demograss plus

    I think that there is so much that our body can do if we give it the right things to work with.

    March 16, 2012 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. supplements for cardio

    I noticed that Subways Nutritional information on their website still lists D3 as the vitamin D source so I emailed them. I received the following email from them. Looks like they have not switched to D2, unfortunately.Kevin

    March 17, 2012 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. quantum mechanics definition

    That is very fascinating, You are an excessively skilled blogger. I have joined your feed and stay up for in quest of extra of your fantastic post. Additionally, I've shared your website in my social networks

    April 4, 2012 at 19:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. D.Steadman

    Sounds good,where can i buy this spray?

    July 17, 2012 at 08:05 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Advertisement
About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.