A Murdoch Children’s Research Institute pilot study will explore the use of medicinal cannabis to reduce symptoms in children and adolescents undergoing palliative care for non-cancerous conditions.
The study has received A$75,000 from the state government’s Victorian Medical Research Acceleration Fund, with additional support from Cannatrek.
Led by Murdoch Children’s Associate Professor Daryl Efron, it will investigate the feasibility and acceptability of a medicinal cannabis clinical trial into easing the symptoms of children undergoing palliative care for non-oncological conditions.
It will involve 10 participants, aged six months to 21 years, who are receiving care in the Victorian Paediatric Palliative Care Program, and have symptoms that are affecting their quality of life. Recruitment will start later this year.
“The trial will evaluate the study design spanning recruitment strategy, medication tolerability, duration and outcomes to determine acceptability and feasibility for participating families and our research team,” Efron said. “The data collected will then be used to design a full-scale multi-centre trial.”
Paediatric patients undergoing 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, seizures, spasticity and dystonia.
“These symptoms are difficult to control with currently prescribed medications, most of which cause significant side-effects,” added Efron.
“Medicinal cannabis is a new therapy with great hope, but there is little evidence from clinical trials, particularly in children.
“In our experience, parents are interested in obtaining medicinal cannabis for their child’s symptoms, but physicians are reluctant to prescribe it because of the lack of quality research.
“There is an urgent need for clinical trials to properly evaluate the role of medicinal cannabis for use in these highly vulnerable patients.”
Around 70% of patients managed by the Victorian paediatric palliative care service have non-oncological conditions including severe cerebral palsy, metabolic and genetic conditions, neurodegenerative disorders and progressive cardiac disease.
“If medicinal cannabis is shown to be effective it will represent an important treatment breakthrough for this patient group,” Efron said.
The study is part of an emerging program of research at the institute into medicinal cannabis for children with an intellectual disability, Tourette’s Syndrome and other developmental conditions such as autism.