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Aylsham multiple sclerosis sufferer says cannabis-based drug ‘changed my life’

PUBLISHED: 10:00 13 July 2013

Teresa Pointer, from Aylsham, whose MS has been helped by using a new drug based on cannabis plant extracts.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Teresa Pointer, from Aylsham, whose MS has been helped by using a new drug based on cannabis plant extracts. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

Teresa Pointer, from Aylsham, whose MS has been helped by using a new drug based on cannabis plant extracts.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYTeresa Pointer, from Aylsham, whose MS has been helped by using a new drug based on cannabis plant extracts. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

A new cannabis-based licensed drug has transformed the life of multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferer Teresa Pointer from Aylsham.

Mrs Pointer, 42, spotted an advertisement in the EDP eight years ago, asking people to take part in treatment trials at the James Paget University Hospital, Gorleston, and she has not looked back.

Today, thanks to two daily sprays of Sativex into her mouth, Mrs Pointer can sleep at night, walk for longer - and she has got her sense of humour back.

“I got in touch with Dr Willy Notcutt at the James Paget and then started on a clinical trial of Sativex. It was the best decision I’ve ever made and it’s done so much for me. It really has given me my life back,” said Mrs Pointer, who lives with her husband and two daughters in Hungate Street.

Teresa Pointer, from Aylsham, whose MS has been helped by using a new drug based on cannabis plant extracts.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYTeresa Pointer, from Aylsham, whose MS has been helped by using a new drug based on cannabis plant extracts. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

She was diagnosed in 2004 with MS, a disease which affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

An increase in muscle tone, or “spasticity”, is a common symptom, causing involuntary muscle spasms, immobility, disturbed sleep, and pain.

Although MS is incurable, treatments and specialists can help sufferers manage their symptoms.

Within two weeks of starting the trial, Mrs Pointer, whose health problems forced her to retire from her job as an assistant cook at Aylsham’s Bure Valley School, began to notice an improvement.

“It doesn’t take any of the symptoms away but it relieves them,” she said. The drug relaxed her muscles, easing the pain, discomfort and spasms when her legs would “try and jump off the bed”, which stopped her sleeping.

“I had been getting so tetchy through lack of sleep. I was snappy and angry all the time. But, because it helped me sleep, I could laugh and smile again. I found the funnier side of life which I thought I’d lost forever.”

At a later point in the double-blind trial, which involved 18 local patients, Mrs Pointer, without her knowledge or that of the medical team, was given a placebo instead of Sativex. Her symptoms soon returned and she could not sleep.

After discussions with specialists, she was put back on the drug. “That night I slept like a baby again. The contrast was so stark,” she said.

Mrs Pointer said she had no previous experience of cannabis but Sativex only relaxed muscles, it did not generate the “high” sought by recreational drug users.

She also believes that, without the drug, she would be using her wheelchair far more often than she does at present as it relaxes her leg muscles enough to allow her to walk greater distances.

Dr Notcutt, research and development director at the James Paget, said Mrs Pointer’s participation in the trial had been invaluable.

He added: “The results of these studies are being used all across the world as doctors and others look at the potential value of this medicine. Teresa and others like her locally have been pioneers in a therapy that has a huge potential in many different areas. Without more volunteers to help us explore, medical research will only make very slow progress.”

■ Around 100,000 people in the UK have MS. It is normally diagnosed in people between the ages of 20 and 40, and affects almost three times as many women as men.

■ Sativex, in the form of a mouth spray, contains the principal extracts delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol - found in the leaf and flower of the cannabis plant, and is the first cannabinoid preparation to be licensed in the UK for use in the treatment of muscle spasms in MS.

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