Cannabis trial offers hope in National Pain Week

Thursday 29 July 2021

Preparing for an around-Australia road trip was the last thing Kevin Jocumsen thought he’d ever be able to do when he was diagnosed with Stage-4 metastatic prostate cancer at the end of 2018.

But the Bribie Island man, 66, says joining an Australian-first medicinal cannabis trial for people with advanced cancer, through Mater Research, allowed him to look forward to his future.

“When the cancer first came back, I started to suffer mild depression and anxiety, which got worse after the radiotherapy and the pain that set in,” Kevin said.

“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.”

Kevin was invited to join the MedCan 1 - Inflam trial when he was put under the care of Mater Director of Palliative and Supportive Care Professor Janet Hardy.

“Within weeks of joining the trial I found my anxiety improved and my pain levels dropped. 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,” he said.

“After the trial I was lucky to have the DVA take up the cost of staying on the oil and today I feel normal again for the first time in years.”

The first phases of the Mater Research medicinal cannabis trial have been completed with more than 150 advanced cancer patients recruited into the study assessing medicinal cannabinoids for symptom relief.

Professor Janet Hardy said she hoped the findings will lead to Australia’s first registered cannabis-based treatment for people with advanced cancer.

“While there’s increasing interest in using medicinal cannabis to relieve symptoms in palliative care patients, there’s a lack of high-quality evidence to demonstrate its benefit,” she said.

“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 doctors and patients can feel confident about its appropriate and safe use.

“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.

“We’re hoping the Mater Research trial will lead to a medicinal cannabis product becoming available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), because 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 Phase I findings are expected to be released in September.

“We’re hoping it might empower the medical community to safely include medicinal cannabinoids as part of treatment plans for patients,” she said.

“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.”

The Mater Research program has been funded by two grants from the Medical Research Futures Fund (MRFF) totalling around $2.8million with two more randomised trials yet to be completed.

Patients interested in participating in the research should speak to their care provider.