Controversial trials started at Gorleston’s James Paget University Hospital (JPH) into using cannabis for pain relief in MS patients could lead to exciting new medicinal applications for the humble plant, it was revealed yesterday.
Speaking at the hospital to an audience of regional health profess-ionals, William Notcutt outlined the 10-year journey from those first trials on 200 Norfolk patients to his cannabis-derived drug Sativex being licensed in the UK for use in treating painful muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis patients.
And he told them the journey was still continuing, with two new studies about to start into using extracts from the plant in relieving cancer pain and controlling a condition – metabolic syndrome – which prevents diabetes patients metabolising fats in their body.
He described winning the battle to have Sativex finally licensed in the UK this year as an “important watershed” opening up the new research possibilities.
“It is not just its use in pain relief that is exciting. It is possible drugs could be developed from cannabis as anti-inflammatories and even to treat certain types of cancer,” he said, highlighting the fact that people had known about the medicinal properties of the plant for 5,000 years.
Dr Notcutt was the first speaker at the conference which was called to highlight the varied research being led by staff at the NHS.
He said: “We have been doing research for a long time but it is much more high-profile now. Management has thrown its weight behind it and there is a bigger support staff. Research has become part of the hospital’s core activity.”
Conference delegates were also told how the JPH was leading the way in encouraging research projects by nurses and midwives.
Consultant nurse Katharine Kite said nurses and midwives had the expertise and experience to contri-bute all kinds of new ideas for improving patient care.
She said the hospital’s Innovations in Nursing and Midwifery Practice Project (INMPP) had already reaped dividends, one project led by matron Barry Pinkney significantly improving care for elderly patients with a broken hip and dramatically cutting their stay in hospital.
Staff nurse Gilli Breij had demonstrated how assessing A&E patients in the waiting room at an early stage could significantly improve the diagnosis of serious conditions which might not be obvious.
Other flagship projects highlighted included consultant anaesthetist Pieter Bothma’s work into new applications for intensive oxgyen therapy in the hospital’s hyperbaric chamber.
By Stephen Pullinger