Head of Research at the MS Society Dr Lorna
Layward "This lends a lot of credence
to all the anecdotal reports" real 28k
The BBC's Christine McGourty "There's been much debate over the potential benefits
of the drug" real 28k
Thursday, 2 March, 2000, 12:26 GMT
Cannabis 'helps MS
Cannabis has medical uses
Cannabis has been proven, for the first time, to be an
effective treatment for the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS).
Many MS sufferers have taken the drug illegally, claiming that it
has a therapeutic effect.
Now UK scientists have shown that a
compound in cannabis can prevent muscle tremor and spasticity caused by
Our research suggests that cannabinoids can play
a crucial role in controlling some of the neuro-muscular problems
seen with MS
Dr David Baker, Institute of Neurology
They also found that synthetic chemicals mimicking the
compound have a similar effect.
This could lead to the development
of commercially-available alternatives to cannabis that have the same
MS sufferers usually experience episodes of paralysis,
interspersed with periods of remission.
As the disease progresses
symptoms of spasticity, or muscle rigidity, and severe tremors may appear.
The researchers, from the Institute of Neurology at University
College London, tested cannabis on mice who had been given an animal
equivalent of MS.
The mice were injected with the cannabinoid
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as well as three synthetic compounds.
One, methanandamide, was similar to a cannabinoid produced
naturally in the body.
All had a significant ability to reduce
both tremor and spasticity.
Lorna Layward has welcomed the
A synthetic compound called WIN55 proved the most
effective against tremors, halting uncontrolled limb movements in as
little as one minute.
Researcher Dr David Baker said: "The effect
was really startling. It was a question of now you see the tremor, now you
The compounds work by binding with two types of receptor
found in the brain and spinal cord.
Blocking the receptors with
other chemicals not only prevented the therapeutic action of the
compounds, but made the existing symptoms much worse.
circumstances, the body produces natural cannabinoids, which bind to the
The scientists believe this mechanism controls body
movement, and is disrupted in MS sufferers.
They believe it could
be possible to boost levels of the natural cannabinoid to improve control
of body movement.
The same receptors are also found in the pain
centres of the spinal cord. One of the claimed health benefits cannabis is
said to have is pain relief.
I've seen people with tremor so severe that they
have to lie with their arms behind their back
Dr Lorna Layward, Multiple Sclerosis Society
Dr David Baker, from the Institute of Neurology, said:
"Although not a cure, our research suggests that cannabinoids can play a
crucial role in controlling some of the neuro-muscular problems seen with
Co-author Dr Lorna Layward, from the Multiple Sclerosis
Society, said: "This is the first time that we have had any objective
scientific evidence that cannabinoid-like compounds have a therapeutic
effect on some of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis."
current treatments were either not very effective or caused severe
Tremor was particularly difficult to treat and could
be severely disabling.
Dr Layward said: "I've seen people with
tremor so severe that they have to lie with their arms behind their backs.
"The symptoms may be so violent that they can actually break
limbs. People cannot feed themselves or get dressed by themselves. It
affects their whole lives."
She said it would probably be several
years before the current research could be translated into pharmaceutical
A Medical Research Council clinical trial is currently
looking at the effect of cannabis and THC on spasticity in 600 MS
patients. The trial will not produce results for about two more years.
About 85,000 people in the UK have MS. The highest incidence in
the world is in Scotland, where one in 500 people have the disease. The
reason is thought to be partly genetic.