Thousands in the UK to be given cannabis for pain relief under a proposed new clinical trial that could pave the way for millions to get the drug on the NHS.

Medical regulators have approved UK’s first trial of pure cannabis for people suffering with chronic pain.  The first approved trial for the usage of the whole cannabis flower and unprocessed marijuana for medicinal use.

Researchers are hoping the major trial will begin later this year, starting with a three-month feasibility study involving 100 patients, which has been approved by the Health Research Authority.

Trial participants will be compared with a control group of 5000 adults of similar demographics and health, receiving standard pain care, to see if the cannabis leads to a significant reduction in pain.

As recently published in The Times UK, the data will be assessed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).  If successful it could pave the way medicinal cannabis to become an approved NHS treatment for up to 15 million adults in the UK living with chronic pain. Researchers say that cannabis could provide a safer alternative to opioids and stop people self-medicating by buying illegal cannabis.

UK government data shows that one in three adults in England have chronic pain, defined as pain lasting longer than three months caused by conditions such as arthritis, back problems, and fibromyalgia.  However, there are few treatment options apart from strong and addictive opioid painkillers.

The study will be conducted by participants using vaporised cannabis for at least a year, using inhaler dispenser cartridges.  They will be required to record their sleep quality, symptoms associated to nausea and fatigue, along with their overall quality of life via a mobile app.

In the UK, medicinal cannabis was made legal in 2018 and so far, three medicines containing just the extract of the cannabis plant have been approved by the NHS, with only less than 100 patients receiving a prescription for such cannabis-based medicine each month. Moreover, such prescriptions can only be administered by specialist doctors, and not General Practitioners. This contrasts with countries such as Germany, which provides hundreds of thousands of prescriptions for medical cannabis, annually.

Although Cannabidiol (CBD oils) and gummies are available to buy there legally as food supplements, the only three medicinal cannabis brands that are recognised by the NHS are Epidyolex; Nabilone; and Sativex.

Epidyolex is a purified CBD oil which can be prescribed to children and adults with an uncommon form of epilepsy to reduce seizures. Nabilone, is a synthetic form of cannabis and is used for nausea caused by chemotherapy. Lasty, Sativex, is a mouth spray that contains cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and is used to treat serious muscle spasms in patients with multiple sclerosis.

Families in the UK must pay £2,000 a month to be provided with whole plant medicinal cannabis privately, as the NHS argues that although there is some evidence to the fact that medicinal cannabis can help certain types of pain, this evidence is not enough to recommend the drug for pain relief.  Thus, campaign groups such as ‘End our Pain’, continue to fight for the legalisation of whole plant medicines.

This clinical experiment if successful will pave the way for the introduction of cannabis for medicinal use.

According to Tony Samios, from LVL Health UK, since patients in the UK need to seek other pain management treatments such as acupuncture and physiotherapy, if the NHS legalises the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, it will lessen the amount of people who self-medicate.  Moreover, it will also reduce the number of people who buy the drug off the streets from drug dealers.

Additionally, Samios explains how the cannabis, which will cost £299 a month per patient, will be delivered to the patient through vaping devices with tamper-proof cartridges that will have to be inhaled all in one go and will take five minutes to inhale. Ultimately, because this trail is pertaining to many Britons who suffer from chronic pain (with one in three adults in England suffering from chronic pain), if approved this trail will surely act as a catalyst for more countries like Australia and New Zealand, to follow suit. Moreover, if approved, this clinical experiment will ensure a substantial growth in the market for the production and distribution of medicinal cannabis.