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Cannabis spray gets go-ahead

Globe and Mail Update

Canada is the first country in the world to approve a cannabis spray that relieves pain in people with multiple sclerosis, Health Canada said Tuesday.

The announcement sent shares of the U.K. maker of the drug, GW Pharmaceuticals Plc, up as much as 14 per cent in London. Germany's Bayer AG will market the drug in Canada.

Sativex, which is administered through a spray in the mouth, relieves pain in patients that suffer from MS, the government agency said. It's expected to hit the shelves by late spring.

“Effective pain control and management are extremely important in a disease like MS,” said Dr. Allan Gordon, neurologist and director of the Wasser Pain Management Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, in a statement. “The approval of Sativex in Canada reflects the urgent need for additional treatment options in the field of neuropathic pain in MS.”

Neuropathic pain, or nerve pain, is a common symptom of MS and can occur in as many as 86 per cent of people with the disease, Health Canada said. The pain has been described as freezing, cold or burning sensations of the limbs, most often in the lower extremities. Many MS patients experiencing neuropathic pain haven't found relief with current treatment options.

“Sativex will likely be welcomed by the many people with MS, whose quality of life has been further compromised with neuropathic pain,” said Dr. William J. McIlroy, National Medical Advisor, MS Society of Canada.

Sativex was found to both relieve pain and reduce sleep disturbance, Health Canada said.

The drug is derived from two compounds of the cannabis plant, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol.

About 50,000 Canadians have MS and the disease of the central nervous system is the most common neurological disease affecting young adults in Canada.

The drug has been approved with some conditions, and the authorization “reflects the promising nature of the clinical evidence which will be confirmed with further studies,” Health Canada said. Side-effects from the drug, usually “mild or moderate,” can include nausea, fatigue, dizziness and reactions at the application site.

© The Globe and Mail

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