Mater palliative care doctors are hoping new research findings from their medicinal cannabis trials will lead to Australia’s first registered cannabis-based treatment for people with advanced cancer.

The first phases of the program have been completed with more than 150 advanced cancer patients recruited into the trials assessing cannabinoids for symptom relief.

Mater director of palliative and supportive care Professor Janet Hardy said there has been increasing interest in using medicinal cannabis to relieve symptoms in palliative care patients, but there was a lack of high-quality evidence to demonstrate its benefit.

Mater director of palliative and supportive care Professor Janet Hardy

She added: “This aims to fill the missing gap in Australian medical research for measurable information on the benefits, efficacy and safety of medicinal cannabinoids so that doctors and patients can feel confident about its appropriate and safe use.

“The first phase of the trial and preliminary data show a promising improvement among patients in emotional well-being.”

Participants in the first randomised study were provided with CBD or a placebo. They were asked to score a range of symptoms that contributed to their overall wellbeing including pain, nausea, appetite and mental health.

With approximately 100,000 palliative care patients dying in Australia each year, finding better treatments for people approaching end of life is critical, said palliative medicine specialist Professor Phillip Good.

Currently there is no registered medicinal cannabis product available for palliative care patients, but Good said he hopes the trial will lead to one becoming available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Professor Hardy said the findings from this phase of the study are expected to be released in September and might empower the medical community to safely include medicinal cannabis as part of treatment plans for patients.

Prostate cancer patient Kevin Jocumsen, pictured with his grandchildren

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.”

There are two more randomised trials yet to be completed, with the research funded by two grants from the Medical Research Futures Fund (MRFF) totalling around A$2.8million.

Kevin Jocumsen joined the Mater medicinal cannabis trial in 2019 after the prostate cancer he thought he’d beaten in 2011 returned and spread.

He is still receiving medicinal cannabis under the care of Professor Hardy and attributes the trial in helping with his pain and mental health.

He added: “I wasn’t told if I was on the placebo or the drug, but my quality of life improved 10,000%, and I began to enjoy life again and feel like my normal self.”