Mater palliative care doctors are hoping new research findings from their medicinal cannabis trials will lead to Australia’s first registered cannabis-based treatment for people with advanced cancer.
The first phases of the program have been completed with more than 150 advanced cancer patients recruited into the trials assessing medicinal cannabinoids for symptom relief.
Mater Director of Palliative and Supportive Care Professor Janet Hardy said there had been increasing interest in using medicinal cannabis in recent years to relieve symptoms in palliative care patients, but there was a lack of high-quality evidence to demonstrate its benefit.
“This research aims to fill the missing gap in Australian medical research for measurable information on the benefits, efficacy and safety of medicinal cannabinoids so that doctors and patients can feel confident about its appropriate and safe use,” Professor Hardy said.
“The first phase of the trial and preliminary data shows a promising improvement amongst patients in emotional well-being.”
Palliative medicine specialist Professor Phillip Good said approximately 100,000 palliative care patients died in Australia each year and finding better treatments was critical for caring for people approaching the end of life.
He said he hoped the Mater Research trial would lead to a medicinal cannabis product becoming available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
“At the moment, there is no registered medicinal cannabis product available for palliative care patients,” Professor Good said.
Participants in the first randomised study were provided with cannabidiol (CBD), (a bioactive compound in cannabis that is not intoxicating and is purported to have a range of anxiolytic, anti-psychotic, anti inflammatory, anti-oxidative and anti-convulsant effects) or placebo.
Patients were asked to score a range of symptoms that contributed to their overall wellbeing including pain, nausea, appetite and mental health.
Professor Hardy said the findings from this phase of the study, expected to be released in September, might empower the medical community to safely include medicinal cannabinoids as part of treatment plans for patients.
“It will also play a role in educating the general public about the appropriate usage of these products while developing a wider understanding of non-conventional treatments,” she said.
Bribie Island-man Kevin Jocumsen, 66, joined the Mater Research medicinal cannabis trial in 2019 after the prostate cancer that he thought he’d beaten in 2011 came back and spread.
“To be honest, I don’t know if I’d still be here if I didn’t get on that trial because the pain and my mental health were so bad, Mr Jocumsem said.
“I wasn’t told if I was on the placebo or the drug, but my quality of life improved 10 000 per cent, and I began to enjoy life again and feel like my normal self.”
Mr Jocumsen, who is under the care of Professor Hardy, is still receiving medicinal cannabis as part of his ongoing supportive care.