A pilot study investigating the use of medicinal cannabis in children and adolescents undergoing palliative care for non-cancerous conditions will kick off in Australia this year.
The study involves 10 participants aged six months to 21 years receiving care under the Victorian Paediatric Palliative Care Program, and who have symptoms further impacting quality of life. These patients have conditions such as severe cerebral palsy, various metabolic and genetic conditions, neurodegenerative disorders and progressive cardiac disease.
The project, which will be led by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s Associate Professor Daryl Efron, will be the first of its type in the world.
“These symptoms are difficult to control with currently prescribed medications, most of which cause significant side-effects,” he said. “Medicinal cannabis is a new therapy with great hope, but there is little evidence from clinical trials, particularly in children.”
Data collected from the pilot study will be used to design a full-scale multi-centre trial.
The study is being funded in part by the Victorian State Government under the latest round of the Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund (VMRAF). In addition to $75,000 State Government cash, additional support is being provided by Victorian medicinal cannabis company Cannatrek.
Recruitment for the trial will start later this year.
“If medicinal cannabis is shown to be effective it will represent an important treatment breakthrough for this patient group,” Associate Professor Efron said.
Australia’s largest child health research centre and based at Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has a team of more than 1,400 researchers delving into conditions including diabetes, allergies, asthma, premature birth, mental health problems, cancer and genetic disorders.
Generally speaking, any doctor or nurse practitioner in Victoria can prescribe medicinal cannabis for any patient with any condition if there is a belief it is clinically appropriate to do so. However, Commonwealth approvals are required before a prescription can be issued.
The Victorian government also has a compassionate access scheme funding medical cannabis for a limited number of children with severe intractable epilepsy. Accessing this scheme needs to be done via the child’s paediatric neurologist.