Landmark Cannabis Trial May Give NSW Cancer Patients 'The Capacity To Fight'

27/02/2016 9:46 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Marijuana leaf in capsule

Claudia Bonifer suffered two bouts of very, very bad nausea after her chemotherapy treatment for ovarian cancer.

“It can be quite awful when it does (happen)” the 49-year old told The Huffington Post Australia.

But she feels luckier than some other patients because, for the most part, her attacks of nausea are latent and comparatively mild.

Regardless, she has welcomed the news that New South Wales will soon host its third medical cannabis trial, the largest of its kind in the world, announced on Friday by Premier Mike Baird.

The announcement of the latest trial came two days after the federal government passed amendments to the Narcotic Drugs Act permit legally-grown cannabis for the manufacture of medicinal cannabis products.

Bonifer has never used cannabis for treatment purposes, but she’s heard good things from patients.

“If it helps, it will be very beneficial, I think, for patients,” she said.

“I’ve observed people that have dealt with it, that were much more affected by it than I have, and it can be very debilitating.

“I think that’s fantastic, Australia getting into the progressive side of things.”

A research team led by associate professor Peter Grimison, from the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse cancer treatment centre, will soon begin a trial of medical cannabis specifically geared towards patients with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

With about 330 patients expected to take part across the state, NSW will be hosting the the largest medical cannabis trial for this group in the world.

About a third of Grimison's patients are undergoing potent, intravenous chemotherapy and still suffer nausea or vomiting that can make it difficult for them to work, to care for their loved ones, or even to eat.

“Many patients say to me, ‘doctor, will cannabis help,’ and at the moment I honestly don’t know,” Grimison told reporters as the trial was announced at the Chris O’Brien centre, near Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to find out if it does help.”

mike baird

NSW Premier Mike Baird and Minister for Medical Research Pru Goward announcing the state's third medical cannabis trial at the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse on Friday.

But not everyone undergoing cancer treatment wants to smoke cannabis, and not everyone likes the feeling of getting stoned.

So a cannabis-derived pill, created by Canadian medical company Tilray, was created in consultation with Grimison’s team.

“We’ve maximised the amount of cannabis that makes people less nauseous, and minimised the amount of cannabis that makes people feel dizzy or disoriented,” Grimison said.

While global attitudes to medical cannabis are changing, its longstanding prohibition has hampered in depth research into the medical effects of the drug.

Tilray, a global provider of medical cannabis which conducts most of its research in Canada, is owned by Privateer Holdings, the world’s first equity firm that exclusively invests in the emerging legal cannabis field and marijuana-related businesses.

Privateer CEO and Co-founder, Brendan Kennedy, told The Huffington Post Australia the trial will have global significance, with cannabis still subject to prohibitive classifications in parts of the United States.

“It’s exciting to see Australia at the cutting edge of medical cannabis research,” he said.

“This research just isn’t currently possible in the United States, and so we look for governments around the world who are interested in researching the medicines derived from cannabis.

“Historically it has been very difficult over the last 40 years -- some would say 75 years -- to conduct clinical research around medical cannabis in the US, and it has to do with the scheduling... it can’t be used for clinical research.”

Baird first announced medical cannabis trials in December 2014, and credits Dan Haslam with changing his mind on medical cannabis.

Haslam, who died in February last year, fought for five years after being diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer, and Baird has previously said the every step his government takes on medical cannabis will be built on the 25-year-old’s footsteps.

“I remember very clearly the look in his eyes when he said to me this medical cannabis made a difference to him,” Baird said on Friday, recalling Haslam’s struggles with nausea during his chemo therapy treatment.

It wasn’t until he took cannabis that his nausea subsided and his appetite returned.

"Accordingly, he had the capacity to fight,” Baird said.

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