Children in Victoria and NSW with extreme behavioural problems are set to take part in a new medical cannabis trial, following the success of a pilot study.
The pilot study found that cannabidiol – widely known as CBD – may reduce the severity of behavioural problems in children and adolescents with an intellectual disability.
As reported in the Herald Sun, the success of the pilot study was enough to convince Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt to commit almost $900,000 for a major study involving 140 Victorian and NSW children beginning later this year.
The pilot study, which was led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, found participants exhibited a clinically significant change in irritability, aggression, self-injury and yelling.
The randomised control trial involved eight participants aged 8-16 who took either CBD or a placebo over the course of eight weeks. Aside from an intellectual disability, most of the participants also had autism. The medication was generally well-tolerated and there were no serious side effects reported.
Associate Professor Daryl Efron, who led the study, said severe behavioural problems such as irritability, aggression and self-injury in children and adolescents with an intellectual disability were a major contributor to functional impairments, missed learning opportunities and reduced quality of life.
He said new, safer interventions were needed to treat this highly vulnerable patient group: “Current medications carry a high risk of side-effects, with vulnerable people with intellectual disability being less able to report them.
“Common side-effects of antipsychotics, such as weight gain and metabolic syndrome, have huge health effects for a patient group already at increased risk of chronic illness.”
Efron said there was intense interest from parents and physicians in medical cannabis as a treatment for severe behavioural problems in young people with an intellectual disability.
“Parents of children with an intellectual disability and severe behavioural problems are increasingly asking paediatricians whether they can access medicinal cannabis for their child and some parents have reported giving unregulated cannabis products to their children,” he said.
“We are also finding many physicians feel unprepared to have these conversations with their patients.”
Researchers from The Royal Children’s Hospital, the University of Melbourne and Monash University also contributed to the study.