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A medical cannabis trial for children receiving palliative care

A study of medicinal cannabis for symptom relief in children receiving palliative care: A pilot study examines the use of medical cannabis to reduce symptoms in children and adolescents receiving palliative care for non-cancer conditions.

The study received $75,000 from the state government’s latest round Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund (VMRAF) Medical Research Minister Jaala Pulford announced. Additional support came from Victorian medical cannabis company Cannatrek.

The project was led by Murdoch Children’s Associate Professor Daryl Efronis the first in the world to investigate the feasibility and acceptability of a medical clinical trial of cannabis for symptom relief in children receiving palliative care for non-oncological conditions.

The study will involve 10 participants aged six months to 21 years who are receiving care under the Victorian Pediatric Palliative Care Program and have symptoms that affect their quality of life. Recruitment for the trial will begin later this year.

“The trial will evaluate the study design, including recruitment strategy, drug tolerability, duration and outcomes, to determine acceptability and feasibility for participating families and our research team,” said Associate Professor Efron. The collected data will then be used to design a full-scale, multicenter study.”

Associate Professor Efron said pediatric patients receiving palliative care experience a range of debilitating symptoms that have a significant impact on well-being and quality of life, including pain, irritability, gastrointestinal symptoms, convulsions, spasticity and dystonia.

“These symptoms are difficult to control with currently prescribed medications, most of which cause significant side effects,” he said.

“Medical cannabis is a new therapy with high hopes, but little evidence from clinical trials, especially in children. In our experience, parents are interested in obtaining medicinal cannabis for their child’s symptoms, but doctors are reluctant to prescribe it due to a lack of quality research. Clinical trials are urgently needed to properly evaluate the therapeutic role of cannabis in these highly vulnerable patients.”

About 70 per cent of patients treated by the Victorian pediatric palliative care service have non-oncology conditions, including severe cerebral palsy, metabolic and genetic conditions, neurodegenerative disorders and progressive heart disease.

“If medical cannabis is proven to be effective, it will represent an important breakthrough in treatment for this patient group,” said Associate Professor Efron.

The study is part of Murdoch Children’s emerging research program into medicinal cannabis in children with intellectual disabilities, Tourette syndrome and other developmental disorders such as autism.

The trial is among 21 projects recently awarded VMRAF funding, which supports both early-stage research and commercial-ready projects.

Minister Pulford said investment in local research would ensure Melbourne remains among the best in the world in driving medical breakthroughs.

“Future treatments and potential cures would not be possible unless we support the scientists and clinicians who work tirelessly to impact the health of all Victorians,” he said.

Email for questions about the trial [email protected]

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