Thousands of people to be given cannabis as a painkiller every day in major new trial that could pave the way for it being prescribed on the NHS
- Cannabis is to be tested as a pain killer which could see it prescribed on the NHS
- The ‘whole plant’ cannabis will be given through inhalers that vaporise the drug
- The trial will involve 5,000 participants with chronic pain taking the drug daily
- The £299 a-month-per-patient cannabis to prevent ‘self-medicating’
Cannabis will be tested as a pain relief drug on thousands of Britons – which, if successful, could see the drug prescribed on the NHS.
Cannabis will be taken daily through inhalers in the trial with 5,000 participants with chronic pain, caused by conditions including arthritis.
The ‘whole plant’ cannabis will be given through inhalers that vaporise the drug. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) will then assess if cannabis should become an approved treatment for as many as 15million adults.
Around one in three adults in England have chronic pain, defined as pain lasting more than three months.
Cannabis on the NHS could prevent people self-medicating – by resorting to drug dealers or ordering drugs over the internet – and may be safer than opioids, the conventional treatment for chronic pain conditions.
Pictured: A cannabis plant. The NHS is to trial cannabis as a pain relief drug which could see it prescribed for patients suffering from chronic pain
Pictured: an asthma inhaler. The trial will involve test patients taking cannabis daily through an inhaler
Medicinal cannabis has been legalised in the UK since 2018. Three medicines have been approved, including Epidyolex, a highly purified liquid containing a cannabis extract, CBD, for a rare form of epilepsy. Only a handful of patients have NHS prescriptions.
‘Whole plant’ treatments have not been approved in the UK before, unlike in other countries including Germany, Canada, Israel and Australia. The NHS says there is ‘some evidence medical cannabis can help certain types of pain, though this evidence is not yet strong enough to recommend it for pain relief’.
Tony Samios, from private firm LVL Health, which is running the trial, told The Times the cannabis could be rolled out on the NHS ‘within the next few years’. ‘We’re hoping we will provide the data that Nice and the NHS require to get it prescribed… absolutely millions could benefit,’ he said.
The trial, called Canpain, will run for the next three years and is open to patients aged 18 to 85 who have been diagnosed with non-cancerous chronic pain. It is starting this month with an initial ‘feasibility study’ involving 100 patients to check for safety, with a further 5,000 patients then set to be enrolled in the trial through LVL Health chronic pain clinics.
As many as one in three adults in England have chronic pain, defined as pain lasting more than three months, with conditions such as arthritis
The cannabis, costing £299 a month per patient, is delivered through tamper-proof cartridges in vaping devices.
Mr Samios said: ‘You have to take it all in one go which takes up to five minutes – it’s not like you can puff on it all day long.’
He added that patients get the effect ‘of inhaling the whole flower, but you’re not actually smoking it and obviously don’t have all the carcinogens’.
The National Institute for Health and Care Research is to oversee the studies looking at the effects of the substance on epilepsy sufferers.
Cannabis has been used to treat pain for thousands of years.
Pharaohs in Ancient Egypt are known to have used the substance, but in recent decades the drug has fallen out of favour with the medical establishment.