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PHARMACEUTICALS Canada OKs cannabis pill as painkiller



Published: Thu, April 21, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Although the medication has some of the same ingredients as pot, users will not get high.

TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL

Canada has become the first country in the world to approve the sale of a cannabis-based prescription painkiller.

Cannabis sativa L. has won approval from Health Canada regulators for treatment of a severe form of pain common among sufferers of multiple sclerosis, but it also may find favor with those with nerve pain related to conditions ranging from shingles to cancer.

The drug, marketed in Canada by Bayer HealthCare under the brand name Sativex, is sprayed under the tongue or inside the cheek.

While it contains the active ingredients that give pot smokers their buzz, including delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), users will not get stoned.

"These people are not feeling intoxicated by the drug, partly because the type of cannabinoids that have been isolated and purified work more specifically at the targeted pain receptors," said Dr. Virginia Devonshire, a neurologist at the University of British Columbia.

Severe pain relief

Patients who will be prescribed the drug also will be suffering from neuropathic pain, which is excruciating and can be provoked by movement, touch or temperature.

"It's like being plugged into an electric socket all the time," said Steve Walsh of Milton, Ontario, who has endured neuropathic pain in his hand for five years since being diagnosed with MS.

He said that, at times, simple things like holding money in his hands "can be too much to take." None of the numerous painkillers he has tried to date provided any real relief, he said.

"There's a huge community of people with MS who are looking forward to this," Walsh said. "Personally, I would be tickled pink if it helped with the pain so I could do things like pick up my grandchild without suffering."

Sativex should be on the market in Canada before summer. The price of the drug has not yet been established.

While a number of drugs use synthesized forms of cannabis, this is the first to actually use marijuana extracts. The British drug company that developed Sativex, GW Pharmaceuticals, has harvested 40,000 pot plants in a secret location to produce the drug.




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