The trial is being run by charity Drug Science and if initial results prove encouraging, it will be scaled up to a large UK clinical trial. Around 30 patients suffering with lasting symptoms will be enrolled via participating GPs
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A landmark trial is being launched looking at using cannabis to treat Long Covid.
Some 30 patients suffering with lasting symptoms such as exhaustion, muscle pain, anxiety and sleeplessness will be enrolled via participating GPs.
The first licence of its kind has been granted by the NHS Research Ethics Committee and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory agency (MHRA)
It is being run by a charity called Drug Science founded by former Government drugs tsar Prof David Nutt.
If initial results are encouraging it will be scaled up to a large UK clinical trial.
Participants will be given cannabis oil daily, which has been shown to work for some patients suffering other forms of post-viral fatigue.
David Badcock, chief executive of Drug Science, said: “We need to address Long Covid and quickly.
“Right now physicians have very little that they can offer to patients.
“Research will lead us to the most effective options and this includes looking at medicines like cannabis which, while legal[ly prescribed] in the UK since 2019, are still widely misunderstood and rarely prescribed.”
Scientists globally still do not know why Long Covid symptoms such as breathlessness, brain fog, exhaustion and muscle pain persist for many months in some patients.
The Office for National Statistics estimated 1.3 Brits were suffering from Long Covid even before the Omicron surge caused record infection rates this winter.
Cannabis is now legally prescribed in the UK but is rarely done so by GPs who cite the lack of robust clinical trials conducted into its benefits and potential harms.
A number of patient groups have been demanding greater research investment to enable such clinical trials.
Participants will be prescribed daily doses of Medicabilis, an oil-form cannabis medicine developed by the pharmaceutical company BOD Australia.
It contains 5% Cannabidiol, known as CBD, and 0.2% Tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC.
The initial trial will run for six months from February 2022.
Participants will undertake daily self-reporting of symptoms aided by devices such as smartphone fitness apps.
They will log their daily heart rates and blood pressures and all data will be anonymised then analysed by researchers to determine the feasibility of medicinal cannabis as a Long Covid treatment.
Principal trial investigator Dr Elizabeth Iveson, a Neurorehabilitation Consultant based at STEPS Rehabilitation Unit in Sheffield, said: “I’m seeing more patients significantly affected by the prolonged after effects of Long Covid.
“Many are young, previously fit and healthy individuals who now struggle daily with mobility, impacted by fatigue, anxiety and a limited tolerance to exercise.
“Access to high quality holistic care and rehabilitation is needed but current NHS resources are very stretched, and often limited to the more severely affected patients.
“This leaves a huge number of patients in the UK experiencing debilitating symptoms and self-managing, with very little therapeutic options available to them or their GPs,
“From my experience of prescribing cannabis to patients with diseases affecting multiple bodily systems and presenting with many different symptoms, there is potential that medical cannabis could also be effective as part of the management of patients with Long Covid.
“Access to these medicines for patients is still limited and expensive. There is an urgent need for more clinical trials for both medical cannabis and Long Covid and so I’m excited to be leading this MHRA approved study.”
Kyle Esplin, 40, has received a prescription for medical cannabis since late 2019, shortly after it was legalised following high profile campiagning by families of child epilepsy sufferers.
Seven years earlier he developed a post-viral condition after contracting what doctors believe to be a form of enterovirus, which can share characteristics with types of coronavirus ).
He explained: “I was the last person you would expect this to happen to. I was very high energy, and living a very busy and full life.
“But six months after my initial infection, I was a different person. I became constantly exhausted, all of my muscles and joints were in pain.
“I couldn’t wash or cook for myself. My heart rate was erratic, I developed new allergies. If I tried to get fit, or ‘better’, I would experience crashes that would put me in bed for weeks on end.
Katielee Arrowsmith SWNS)
“These crashes, known medically as post-exertional malaise, are common in many forms of post-viral fatigue and were perhaps the worst part of all.
“I went from being a fit and healthy 30 year old to someone who was unable to work, and who could do little more than sit at home in silence.
“Any attempt to change my situation or fight back against it caused even bigger relapses, it was dreadful.
“I was prescribed painkillers, offered antidepressants, and I tried alternative therapies and holistic medicines in an attempt to get well.
Katielee Arrowsmith SWNS)
“Nothing made a difference until I began using cannabis. Medical cannabis has turned down the volume on my symptoms to the point where some seem to have disappeared altogether.
“It has allowed my system to operate far more normally. It has toned down my body’s inflammatory response and helped to repair what was ultimately a crashed and broken network. I have been able to rebuild my health by using it, regaining a high level of functionality and physical fitness.
“Cannabis was the only medicine that has worked for me. It is logical to assume that it would have a similar benefit for other patients experiencing types of post-viral fatigue, including Long Covid.
“My experience shows that these medicines can have a transformative impact on people’s health, wellbeing and overall quality of life.”