UNSW will lead Australia’s first medical cannabis trial to assess whether cannabis products can enhance the quality of life for adults with terminal cancer in the final stages of their life.

The trial, announced by NSW Premier Mike Baird and Minister for Medical Research Pru Goward today, will be conducted by a research team led by UNSW Conjoint Associate Professor Meera Agar, from the South Western Sydney Clinical School.

Associate Professor Agar, who is also Clinical Trials Director with the Liverpool-based Ingham Institute, said the trial will assess whether two types of cannabis products, vaporised leaf cannabis and a pharmaceutical, can improve appetite.

“The trial will also examine whether the cannabis products can alleviate distressing symptoms including fatigue, low appetite, altered taste and smell for food, low mood, weight loss, nausea, insomnia and pain relief,” Professor Agar said.

The trial will be undertaken in two parts. Part one of the trial, known as a Phase 2 study, will enroll 30 patients from the Calvary Mater Newcastle Hospital.


NSW Premier Mike Baird, Minister for Medical Research Pru Goward and UNSW Conjoint Associate Professor Meera Agar (NSW Health).

Researchers will assess whether the product can be inhaled as a vapour, if it is well tolerated by patients and any unwanted side effects. They will also assess the ideal dose of the potential cannabis product and how often it should be given to patients.

Patients will begin treatment in early 2016 with initial results expected by the end of that year.

The second part of the trial, known as a Phase 3 study, will be informed by the results of Phase 2 and may enroll a larger number of patients in a number of major hospitals across NSW. In this part of the trial, patients will be randomly assigned to three groups with each receiving a cannabis product or a placebo.

NSW Premier Mike Baird said the trial will play a critical role to help better understand what role medical cannabis can play in alleviating symptoms and pain in terminally ill patients.

“We do not want patients or carers having to play pharmacist – that is why it is so important to explore the safest and most effective ways we can deliver compassionate care and improve the quality of life,” Mr Baird said.

Ingham Institute Research Director Professor Michael Barton OAM congratulated Professor Agar and said the announcement represented a huge leap forward with respect to the treatment options available to terminally ill cancer patients in NSW.

"Advancing and accelerating new treatment options for cancer patients in palliative care to enhance end of life care is a very difficult area of cancer research," Professor Barton said.

"Associate Professor Agar is at the forefront of this very challenging area so this announcement is big news for the progression of her research here at the Ingham Institute and for the management and clinical wellbeing of the terminally ill in NSW."

Enquiries about the trial can be addressed to: cannabistrial@doh.health.nsw.gov.au

For more information about the trial visit http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/cannabis   

A copy of the NSW Government media release can be found here