Developing cannabis-based therapeutics

Minister for Health Jill Hennessy Chairperson of the new Independent Medical Advisory Committee, Professor James Angus AO, and Premier Daniel Andrew

Please note: Images in this article were taken before current COVID-19 safety measures were in place.

First Victoria led the way in Australia to establish a regulatory framework for stem cell research. Now, Melbourne is at the forefront of developing therapeutics from cannabis.

The first cannabis crop grown by the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources has now been harvested, with plans to run clinical trials on the efficacy of a drug derived from the plants on children with epilepsy.

It follows horticultural trials conducted in 2016 and the establishment of the Office of Medicinal Cannabis and the new Independent Medical Advisory Committee, led by chairman Professor James Angus.

Premier Daniel Andrews said he wanted to see an end to needless child suffering: “Right now we have parents making the heartbreaking decision between breaking the law and watching their child suffer—and we are changing that forever,” he said.

“We are delivering on our promise to give access to medicinal cannabis as soon as possible because we know it can change lives.”

Unofficial trials are already delivering hope

Professor Angus said desperate parents around the world have been turning to illegal sources of medicinal cannabis to arrest their children’s suffering.

Now there is official research backing up these claims, and Professor Angus is confident that this year’s trial would pave the way for an effective drug for Australian children.

“There is some parental evidence that for their children, the number of epileptic fits are reduced, the severity is reduced,” he said.

“We are still waiting on the evidence before we can really go ahead, and that needs to be done through these properly controlled clinical trials.

“We also need to ensure that the product that they are using is consistent, is of very high quality and that we know the composition. For epilepsy, the evidence is that we want as little THC as possible, and it should be mainly cannabidiol of a very high percentage.

“Therefore, there should be no psychosis associated with this particular therapy for epilepsy.”

Victoria leading the way in medical research once again

Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford said the harvesting process that has led to the clinical trials shows that Victoria is once again at the front of medical research in Australia.

“Our cannabis horticultural trial is on-track to deliver this life-changing product to those who need it the most. Victoria continues to lead the way in this space with our Australian-first medicinal cannabis horticultural trial,” she said.

And Professor Angus said the clinical trials showed the government had listened to the pleas of people desperate for the research to go ahead.

“I would say at the moment it’s a start,” he said. “There are many, many patients out there and their carers who think that medicinal cannabis might be an effective second or third line treatment. But we have to be very careful to ensure that it is safe, effective and a quality product.

“It is a medicine and we need to emphasise that. It’s not just a nutraceutical or an add-on benefit that may do some good, but also do some harm.”