Australia NSW cannabis trial: terminally ill adults and children with epilepsy to take part

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Children with severe epilepsy, terminally ill adults and those undergoing chemotherapy in NSW could get to trial cannabis to ease their symptoms.

About $9m will be spent on at least three trials, some of which will be held at the Children’s hospital at Westmead and Sydney Children’s hospital.

The NSW government says if it cannot source medical-grade cannabis from overseas, it is prepared to look at growing it here.

“The government will assume responsibility for supply itself,” premier Mike Baird said. “If we have evidence that medical cannabis has the potential to change lives, then we need to do something about it.”

Under new guidelines, police will have discretion to not charge terminally-ill cannabis users and the carers who assist them.

“I am hopeful the trials will help us to better understand what role medical cannabis can play in alleviating symptoms in seriously ill patients, while the scheme will help to lighten the burden of stress for those suffering,” Baird said.

An expert panel, led by NSW chief medical officer Dr Kerry Chant, will be established.

The head of the epilepsy program at the Children’s hospital at Westmead, Dr Deepak Gill, and child neurology epilepsy specialist Dr John Lawson from Sydney Children’s hospital, Randwick, and their teams will also be involved in the trial.

Health Minister Jillian Skinner said it could take years for the trials to be approved for mainstream use.

“Clinical trials have to go through very rigorous ethics standards, controls have to be approved by the therapeutic goods association, which is a commonwealth body, so it could take months if not years,” he said.

Supply and distribution protocols will be established for each trial. Baird stressed that the drug remained illegal.

“The government will continue to reinforce the message that recreational use of cannabis is illegal and will not be tolerated,” he warned.

Australian Medical Association NSW president Saxon Smith welcomed details of the trials.

“This will allow sick people access to medicine that is being tested and examined for efficacy – potentially improving their lives in the short term and providing evidence to help the wider population in the longer term,” Smith said.

“I’m glad the government is broadening its approach to the trials, allowing for more than just treatment of terminal illness.”

But deputy opposition leader Adam Seale said the trials are moving too slowly and the new police guidelines are creating grey areas in the law.

“The terminally ill have little to look forward to from these clinical trials, which could take years that many people simply do not have to wait,” Seale said.


Henry Sapiecha

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