Premier Mike Baird is officially allowing researchers at the University of New South Wales (USNW) to conduct medical marijuana trials.
New South Wales will be Australia’s first territory to conduct this type of clinical research on the plant. The local government will contribute $9 million to support the trials, which will include terminally ill cancer patients. At this time, the clinical research will be limited to adults. However, Premier Baird reportedly promised to explore trials focusing on severely epileptic children last year.
Meera Agar, an UNSW associate professor and the study’s chief investigator, has experience in conducting clinical trials with a special focus on terminally ill patients. Professor Agar will focus on using cannabis to improve appetite-related symptoms. The study will commence in early 2016 at Calvary Mater Newcastle Hospital. Initially, 30 patients will be treated with cannabis vapor. The dosage and side effects will be carefully monitored, and the end of 2016 should see the trial’s first results.
The second half of the trial may require a larger patient pool from NSW metropolitan and regional hospitals. The study will test the effectiveness of both the vaporized cannabis leaf and a pharmaceutical option. However, the Human Research Ethics Committee must first review and approve the study.
Profession Agar stated the research will concentrate on the symptoms of low mood, fatigue, pain relief, weight loss, insomnia, altered taste and smell, nausea and low appetite. The data gathered will be key in understanding the role medical marijuana can play in improving the quality of life for terminally ill patients.
Despite this progress, Australia trails behind other countries that have legalized medicinal cannabis. The United States has legalized medical cannabis in 36 states, and Israel allows its use in hospitals and nursing homes.
The founder of medical marijuana research company Tasman Health Cannabinoids, Troy Langmann, fears that providing patients in need with an effective cannabis-based medication will take years. He said,
“[I]t contains over 500 different compounds and can be used for a huge variety of conditions, from depression to cancer. . .We know it’s safe, side effects are minimal and people prefer it over many currently prescribed medications, which in many cases are nowhere near as effective as cannabis. . . It’s just not feasible to do individual clinical studies to determine what it should be used for, for the sake of satisfying a peer reviewed study, when there is a desperate need for this medicine now.”
Nevertheless, support for medical cannabis is quickly spreading across Australian territories. Tasmania is conducting a parliamentary inquiry into medical marijuana legalization, and the ACT Legislative Assembly is considering a bill to legalize medicinal usage of the plant.
Queensland and Victoria Premiers Annastacia Palaszczuk and Dan Andrews have voiced their public support for the NSW clinical study. Furthermore, Mr. Andrews has stated an interest in helping to conduct next year’s trials, which may incorporate cases of severe childhood epilepsy.