MS Society Comment on MRC Cannabis Announcement

Monday 13th December 1999

The UK Multiple Sclerosis Society today welcomed the announcement that the Medical Research Council is to fund a clinical trial on cannabis extract in the treatment of spasticity in MS.

Society chief executive, Peter Cardy, said, "For years we have pressed for proper medical research to assess the clinical effectiveness and safety of these substances. We were instrumental, with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, in bringing together all the interested parties and going on to develop the protocols on which this trial will be based.

"Thousands of people with MS suffer from the often very painful symptoms of spasticity. Anecdotal evidence of the benefit or otherwise of using cannabis has varied widely. It is clearly an unacceptable state of affairs when many people suffering from a serious medical condition feel driven to break the law. The trial will provide us with the evidence we need to know whether cannabis or cannabinoids are a safe effective treatment of spasticity in MS"

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Reference: MRC/37/99

Date: For immediate release, Monday 13 December 1999


The Medical Research Council (MRC) today (Monday 13 December 1999) announced plans to fund the first clinical trial to attempt to measure the therapeutic effects of cannabis extract in people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

The MRC has approved a grant of Ј950,000 to Dr John Zajicek, a Consultant Neurologist at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth to undertake a three-year study.

MS is a disease of the nervous system and is one of the most common causes of disability in young people. People with the condition can have distressing symptoms such as muscle stiffness and spasms (spasticity), pain, fatigue, difficulty passing urine and tremors. Some people with MS have claimed that cannabis can help some of these problems.

Dr Zajicek will recruit 660 patients with MS from across the country who have significant spasticity in some of their leg muscles. Each patient will be randomly allocated to one of three treatments in capsule form: extract of cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (a constituent of cannabis) or a placebo (containing only a vegetable oil). Neither the patients nor their doctors will know which treatment is being taken until after the study.

Assessments of muscle stiffness and mobility will be made every few weeks. Side effects will be recorded and assessments of quality of life and disability will be made.

Dr Zajicek said: "We hope the study will provide definite scientific evidence about whether or not taking cannabis is helpful to people with MS."

Patients will be recruited from specialist MS clinics in hospitals around the country, and any potential participants should contact their own doctors.

People with MS and their families who want to know more about the condition can contact the Multiple Sclerosis Society Helpline on 0808 800 8000. The helpline is open from 3pm until 9pm Monday to Friday.


For more information or to speak to Dr John Zajicek please contact the MRC press office on 0171 637 6011.

Notes to Editors

1. The Medical Research Council (MRC) established in 1913, aims to improve health by promoting research into all areas of medical and related science. It is funded mainly by the government, but is independent in its choice of which research to support. About half of the MRC’s expenditure of around Ј300 million is invested in over 40 of its Institutes and Units, where it employs its own research staff. The remaining half goes in the form of grant support and training awards to individuals and teams in universities and medical schools.

2. It is estimated that around 85,000 people in the UK have multiple sclerosis, the most common neurological disease affecting young adults in the Western world. The Multiple Sclerosis Society is the nationwide organisation dedicated to supporting people with MS, their families and carers, and securing the care they need in their everyday lives.