Nearly a quarter of a century ago in 1998 GW Pharmaceuticals was granted the first license in the UK to cultivate cannabis. After years of development, in 2010 its Multiple Sclerosis drug Nabiximols which trades under the brand name Sativex was approved for use in the UK, although doctors were not allowed to prescribe cannabis-based medicines until 2018.
Sativex is a combination of 2.7 mg THC and 2.5 mg CBD that has been manufactured into an oral spray to treat muscle spasms (spasticity) and other symptoms related to MS such as neuropathic pain and an overactive bladder.
Following the authorisation from the UK Home Office that Sativex could be used by Doctors to help their patients with MS as a prescription-only medicine in England, authorisation was further granted for its use in Spain, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Wales and Northern Ireland, amongst other countries around the world. In Europe, Nabiximols is traded under the brand name Almirall.
This week it was announced by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) that it had approved Sativex for use in adult patients “with moderate to severe spasticity due to MS who have not responded adequately to other anti-spasticity medication”, and will now allow doctors to begin to prescribe the medicine to patients, totally funded by the NHS. It also stated that repeat prescriptions will depend on patients experiencing a “clinically significant improvement” in their spasms during an initial trial period.
Helping to force the issue of not having Sativex available to help patients in Scotland was the MS Society, which is the UK’s largest charity for people affected by multiple sclerosis (MS). Through their Approved but Denied campaign, they made a request to the manufacturer of Sativex to make a submission to the Scottish Medicines Consortium for the approval of the medicine on the NHS in Scotland. In their statement online they commented, “We’re pleased the manufacturer listened to us and members of our community.”
In a statement on their website, Scotland Director for the MS Society Morna Simpkins said, “We welcome the SMC’s decision. Sativex has been proven to relieve muscle spasms and their associated pain, leading to improved mobility, better sleep patterns and a better quality of life for the person living with MS and their partner, family and loved ones.
“We’ll continue to work with the SMC, NHS Scotland, individual health boards and neurologists to make sure Sativex quickly becomes available to everyone throughout Scotland whose life could be significantly improved by taking it.”
Lillias is an MS patient who spoke to the MS Society about her experience with Sativex. She was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting MS ten years ago and had been experiencing symptoms since she was a teenager. Since 2018 she’s been prescribed Sativex by her doctors to treat her spasticity.
“It feels wonderful knowing other people with MS will be able to easily access Sativex on the NHS in Scotland from now on. No one should have to live a life struggling to manage muscle spasms and pain,” said Lillias.
Any people who are affected by MS and may be interested in taking a cannabis based medicine are advised to speak with their doctor first as cannabis may not be suitable for all, as with all medicines there can be side effects. Patients treating their MS with Sativex may find that their fatigue symptoms, for example, actually get worse, and as it contains THC users may also experience a ‘high’ that is often associated with recreational cannabis use.