Medicinal cannabinoids trial for symptom relief

A Queensland trial will evaluate the benefits of medicinal cannabis for symptom relief in cancer patients receiving palliative care.

The 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.

The research team leader from Mater Research Institute-University of Queensland (MRI-UQProfessor Janet Hardy said she was beyond thrilled to receive the highly prestigious and competitive grant, with her team including Associate Professor Phillip Good, Mr Matthew Spitzer and Ms Georgie Cupples.

Professor Hardy said information from this study is urgently required to inform future prescribing practices, research and health policy.

“We will conduct the first clinical trial worldwide to rigorously evaluate the efficacy, safety and acceptability of medicinal cannabinoids for symptom relief in advanced cancer patients receiving palliative care. The study will be a randomised, blinded, placebo controlled trial that will define the role of medicinal cannabis in the care of these patients.”

As the Medical Director of Mater Cancer Care Centre, Professor Hardy noted the strong interest from patients:

“There has certainly been an overwhelming interest in the use of medicinal cannabinoids, particularly for the relief of symptom distress in palliative care patients.

A large number of patients who come to us in clinic ask for cannabis, due to the public perception around its beneficial effects.

Professor Hardy said that without high quality trials showing efficacy and safety of medical cannabinoids, neither doctors nor patients know which cannabis product or what dose is best for them.

“In palliative care there has been a lot of uncertainty around which patients would benefit most and which particular cannabinoid is most suited to the needs of people with advanced cancer. These are the questions we hope to answer through this trial.”

“Cannabis, the plant, contains more than 100 different cannabinoids but we don’t know which one or combination of these, if any, will be best for the symptomatic relief of this patient group.”

The trial will assess symptoms as a whole, physical and psychological, rather than focussing on the impact of individual symptoms.

“Patients participating in the trial will be asked to score a range of symptoms including pain, nausea, appetite, bowel function, anxiety and depression. The primary outcome we are assessing is their ‘total symptom score’ representing their symptom burden. We’re looking at the holistic care of patients with advanced cancer.”

The research team is part of the Queensland Palliative Care Research Group (QPCRG). The multicentre trial will be conducted in several hospitals throughout South-East Queensland and supported by experts with special knowledge of cannabinoid pharmacology and trial methodology.

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