QUEENSLAND researchers will soon start a major clinical trial to find out the benefits of medicinal cannabis for cancer patients receiving palliative care.
“We are delighted to be one of nineteen research projects funded in this round right across Australia,” team leader from Mater Research in Brisbane Professor Janet Hardy said.
Medicinal cannabis is now legal in Queensland, yet Professor Hardy said so little was known about the more than 100 different cannabinoids contained in each cannabis plant – how each cannabinoid affected symptoms such as pain, fatigue and depression, and which combinations of cannabinoids was suited to the needs of patients with advanced cancer.
“As doctors, at the moment, we have no idea what to prescribe as far as medicinal cannabis is concerned,” she said.
“It just might be that with medicinal cannabis, if we can get the combination of products right, it can lead to a general benefit for these patients.”
The four-year clinical trial is funded by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), a landmark fund established by the Australian Government supporting clinical trials for rare diseases and unmet medical needs.
“Our trial is unique because we are looking at total symptom burden,” Prof Hardy, a palliative care expert with a background in medical oncology, said.
“We are testing a whole lot of symptoms like fatigue, anorexia, pains, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and also psychological symptoms like depression and anxiety.
“Because medicinal cannabis is already legalised in Queensland, as soon as we can get the results up it will be good information for patients that they can access immediately.”
During the trial the cannabis will be administered by oil drops or capsules, and “vapourised” product could be introduced.
More than 200 people – patients with advanced cancer – were needed for the trial, and Professor Hardy said: “We have a whole list of people who’ve said they want to be involved in this trial”.
“It is very important this trial is not seen as access to cannabinoid products,” she said.
“We are trying to answer some very important scientific questions.”
Prof Hardy said the trial could also aid governments formulating medicinal cannabis policy.
“The (Queensland) Government has done a lot of work in trying to develop some guidelines to help practitioners in their prescription of cannabinoids, but the guidelines are really quite light on the ground.
“So this will be enormous, helping to advise practitioners on what they should be prescribing and under what circumstances.”
The trial will begin within a few months, conducted in several south-east Queensland hospitals and supported by experts with special knowledge of cannabinoid pharmacology and trial methodology.