A Legal Route To Cannabis For MS Could Transform People's Lives

28/07/2017 15:32 BST | Updated 28/07/2017 15:32 BST
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When Chris' muscle spasms kick in, they feel like an electric shock making his leg jerk suddenly. Muscle stiffness causes Nicky's arms to go rigid, her legs to clamp together, and her body to fling itself backwards. The pain that Johnathan experiences rotates around his leg like a tornado and is a strange sensation that switches between hot and cold burning. This pain is always there - the more he tries to ignore it, the more fatigued he becomes.

Dealing with pain and spasticity (muscle spasms and stiffness) when you have multiple sclerosis (MS) is relentless and exhausting. It can make it impossible to manage daily life. Most people with MS will experience these symptoms at some point. While there are treatments available on the NHS to help, they don't work for everyone.

But, we know that cannabinoids (compounds that make up the cannabis plant) could help. In the UK, MS is the only condition which has a licensed treatment derived from cannabis ('nabiximols' but also known as Sativex) - used to manage spasticity. Evidence also increasingly indicates that cannabis itself can be effective in treating pain.

Many people in the UK could benefit from taking Sativex. However, it's currently unavailable on the NHS (with the exception of Wales). That means for the most part, only people who can afford to pay for expensive private prescriptions can get it.

This has resulted in many people with MS turning to illegal forms of cannabis as an alternative. It's simply not right that some people are being driven to break the law to relieve their pain and spasticity. It's also really risky when you're not sure about the quality or dosage of what you're buying.

We have reviewed our position on cannabis use as a medicinal treatment for people with MS. With the aid of our medical advisers we reassessed the level of evidence. And we've worked with people with MS, both through a UK wide survey and focus groups, to share their perspectives and experiences. Of course the clinical evidence is not exhaustive and cannabis would not be appropriate for all people with MS. However, there is enough evidence to assert that cannabis for medicinal use, if managed properly, could benefit around 10,000 people who suffer from pain and spasticity.

We're calling on the UK government to legalise cannabis for medicinal use to treat pain and spasticity in MS, when other treatments have not worked.

We believe that people should be able to access objective information about the potential benefits and side effects of using cannabis for medicinal purposes.

And, we think it's both unfair and against the public interest to prosecute people with MS for using cannabis to treat pain and spasticity, when other treatments have not worked for them.

Countries like Germany and Canada have already made cannabis available for medicinal use, and Ireland is considering it. We hope this review starts a new conversation about cannabis for medicinal use in the UK. One that is based on the latest clinical evidence and which recognises the extremely difficult situation in which many people with MS find themselves.

For Chris, Nicky, Johnathan, and thousands of others, having an effective treatment to manage their symptoms could have a massive impact on their quality of life. People with MS should to be able to access the right treatment at the right time, no matter where they live.