Glucosamine sulfate is able to stimulate proteoglycan synthesis by chondrocytes and has mild anti-inflammatory properties. In clinical trials, glucosamine sulfate was more effective than placebo in controlling the symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA). In order to better characterize this therapeutic activity, we conducted a randomized, double-blind, parallel-group study of glucosamine sulfate 500 mg t.i.d. vs ibuprofen 400 mg t.i.d., orally for 4 weeks. The study included 200 hospitalized patients with active OA of the knee, symptoms for at least 3 months and a Lequesne's index of at least 7 points. Patients were evaluated weekly. Response was defined as a reduction in the Lequesne's index by at least 2 points if the enrollment value was higher than 12 points, or by at least 1 point if the enrollment value was 12 or less points, together with a positive overall assessment by the investigator. The improvement tended to be sooner under ibuprofen (48% responders vs 28% after the 1st treatment week; P = 0.06, Fisher's Exact test), but there was no difference from the 2nd week onward, with a success rate of 52% in the ibuprofen group and of 48% in the glucosamine group (P = 0.67) at the end of treatment. The average Lequesne's index at enrollment was around 16 points and decreased by over 6 points in both groups, again with the above described trend. On the other hand, 35% of patients on ibuprofen reported adverse events, mainly of gastrointestinal origin, vs 6% adverse events with glucosamine (P < 0.001, Fisher's Exact test). The number of adverse event related drop-outs was different between the two groups (7% vs 1%, respectively; P = 0.035). Glucosamine sulfate was therefore as effective as ibuprofen on symptoms of knee OA. These data confirm glucosamine sulfate as a safe symptomatic Slow Acting Drug for OA.