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Cannabis trials to focus on quality of life

The palliative care provider set to lead the nation’s first medical cannabis trial states that the pilot could help improve the care of people with advanced or terminal illnesses.

The state government-funded $9 million clinical trial is aiming to determine what role medical cannabis can play in alleviating symptoms and pain in terminally ill patients.

NSW Premier Mike Baird announced the trial earlier this week. It will be led by UNSW chief investigator associate professor Meera Agar, who is also director of palliative care at HammondCare’s Braeside Hospital in western Sydney. Newcastle’s Calvary Mater hospital will host the trial, which is due to commence in early 2016 and involve about 30 patients.

Baird said his government did not want “patients or carers having to play pharmacist”. “That is why it is so important to explore the safest and most effective ways we can deliver compassionate care and improve the quality of life,” he said. “Our trials will help to position NSW at the forefront of world-class research in this area and explore how we can complement the existing palliative care treatments and therapies patients receive.”

The trial’s first focus is expected to be loss of appetite, which Agar described as a “highly prevalent symptom causing great distress for palliative patients and their families but which has limited treatment options”. Other symptoms to be addressed include fatigue, pain, low mood, weight loss, nausea and insomnia.

Along with being an Australian first, Agar said the trial would be one of the first in the world to use a leaf cannabis product with a vapouriser.
“This delivery system could more easily translate into mainstream medical practice,” Agar said. “The vaporiser allows the delivery of the active cannabis agent without the toxins and the smoke.

“Valuing good evidence is really important to improve the care of people who have advanced illness. This clinical trial is acknowledging a huge investment in improving care for people with terminal illness.”

Baird said initial results were expected by the end of 2016. Once the results of part one are known, part two might expand the trial to a broader range of patients across metropolitan and regional hospitals.

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