DOCTORS want approval to use marijuana to help treat Victorian patients suffering multiple sclerosis.
If successful it would be the first time permission has been given for the drug’s legal use in prescription medicine in Australia.
The push to trial a liquid marijuana-based mouth spray to ease the symptoms and pain of MS sufferers is being led by a doctor from the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s neurology department.
The doctor is expected to lodge a formal request with the hospital’s ethics committee when it next meets.
He wants to be able to prescribe Sativex, a drug developed in the UK by GW Pharmaceuticals, a company established specifically to develop cannabis-based prescription medicines.
According to the company’s website there is no evidence that patients obtain a high such as those experienced by marijuana smokers.
The most common side-effects of Sativex are sleepiness, nausea, and dizziness.
The drug is widely used in the UK, Canada and Spain, and is being tested in the US.
It is claimed Sativex helps alleviate pain and other debilitating symptoms associated with advanced MS, including tremors and loss of movement control and bladder control.
It is also being prescribed to cancer patients in some countries for pain relief and has been tested on patients suffering rheumatoid arthritis and neuropathic pain.
It is understood the doctor from the Royal Melbourne contacted Victoria’s Health Department late last year seeking advice on making an application to use the drug to treat MS patients.
“The prescribing medical practitioner is currently going through the process of applying for approval from the hospital’s Human Research Ethics Committee,” she said.
“For approval to be given for the prescription of this medicine in this trial, both state and Commonwealth approval is required.
“However the state can give its approval prior to the drug receiving Commonwealth consent and TGA approval.”
The process requires doctors to provide their qualifications as well as patients’ details, including diagnosis and intended dosage of the medicine.
A Royal Melbourne Hospital spokesman said it would not be unexpected for a doctor to seek permission to use a drug that has been successful in other countries.
The Herald Sun can also reveal the Therapeutic Goods Administration recently approved four applications by a Victorian doctor to use the same drug to treat a rare neurological condition.
The “special access scheme” enables unregistered drugs to be used in very limited circumstances for a specific patient with their consent.
“There are no others applications current and Sativex is not registered in Australia,” a TGA spokesman said.
MS Australia’s Dr Bill Carroll said any drug that gave sufferers relief was worth a try.
“We are looking forward to the results of rigorous testing that must take place in order to determine whether this drug will be effective in helping people living with this disease,” he said.
MS sufferer Robert Pask said he was encouraged by the possibility of any new drugs that could help manage his disease.
“I’ll be waiting to see the results of the trials to determine whether this drug may help relieve pain, which is one of my most debilitating symptoms,” he said.
Sativex uses cannabinoids and other pharmacologically active components taken from cannabis plants grown in secure glasshouses at a secret location in the UK.
The cannabis-based substances are classified as Schedule 9 under the Victorian drugs and poisons schedule.
By law, medical practitioners must apply to the Secretary of the Health Department for a permit to administer them.