QUT has received almost A$700,000 from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to assess the effectiveness, safe dosage and side-effects of two medicinal cannabis products for managing symptoms in children with advanced cancer.

The three-year trial is expected to start this year and will be led by QUT Adjunct Associate Professor and director of Children’s Health Queensland’s Paediatric Palliative Care Service Anthony Herbert.

Herbert said: “The clinical trial will be a win-win because patients will have access to the medicine, but clinicians will also have the opportunity to observe the impacts of medicinal cannabis in a structured and controlled way to see if it has benefits without causing side effects such as drowsiness, or potentially even making symptoms worse.

Professor Murray Mitchell (left) and Adjunct Associate Professor Anthony Herbert

The research aims to establish whether giving medicinal cannabis to children receiving palliative care for advanced cancer improves symptoms such as pain and sleep.

Herbert added: “This group of children may not have long to live, so their quality of life is really important, and we want to know if this intervention can help them in their last weeks or months of life. This study will contribute to the limited evidence around the role and safe use of medicinal cannabis in children, which can be used to inform future clinical trials.

“In Australia this will be the first research using medicinal cannabis to manage symptoms in children with cancer receiving palliative care. No similar trials have been published in the worldwide literature.”

The trial will compare different combinations and ratios of CBD and THC to determine which is most effective in reducing symptoms.

Researchers will measure symptom scores for appetite, lack of energy, pain, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting. They will also measure sleep and activity, quality of life, anxiety and depression.

“This group of children may not have long to live, so their quality of life is really important”

Adjunct Associate Professor Anthony Herbert

Herbert said the trial may be impacted by the relatively small number of children with a cancer diagnosis requiring palliative care. Around 770 children aged 0-14 years are diagnosed with cancer in Australia each year, and about 100 children under the age of 15 die as a result. In Queensland, about 30 children are referred to palliative care annually, so researchers will partner with sites in Newcastle and Melbourne.

Herbert said the study was exploratory in nature, not a definitive randomised controlled study, due to the fragility and small number of children involved.

The trial is expected to provide clinicians and researchers with more experience and research to inform practice and the feasibility of a larger, more definitive study of clinically or statistically significant differences between products.

The research is a collaboration between QUT, The University of Queensland, University of Sydney Children’s Health Queensland, Queensland Children’s Hospital, Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. John Hunter Children’s Hospital, Newcastle and Monash Medical Centre, Melbourne.