In more recent times, medicinal cannabis and the use of this drug has been a popular topic of discussion throughout the media and throughout the scientific community at large. As a medical product however, we need to consider if this drug works, and by ‘works,’ we need to ask the question: can medicinal cannabis improve the quality of life for people living with MS?
Research has shown that medicinal cannabis can be helpful to treat some MS symptoms in a number of people with MS. However, there isn’t much evidence to suggest that medicinal cannabis can affect the disease course itself by reducing the number of relapses or slowing the progression of the disease.
Trials to date suggest that medicinal cannabis can help relieve muscle spasms but have been less conclusive when it comes to other MS symptoms. Studies on pain have shown some initial positive effects of medicinal cannabis, but the number of people that report positive benefits decrease over time, suggesting there isn’t long term benefits. There appear to be benefits for people with bladder issues, and some minor relief from sleep disturbances have also been observed. Overall, there are suggestions that medicinal cannabis might be beneficial for people with MS, and more information can be found on studies into specific symptoms here.
Most of the studies previously mentioned looked at the use of cannabis and its effect on specific symptoms. There are now two clinical trials currently underway in Australia looking at medicinal cannabis and its impact on people’s overall quality of life, including people with MS.
The first study is the QUality-of-life Evaluation STudy (QUEST Initiative), conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney. This study aims to be the world’s largest longitudinal clinical study investigating the quality of life and health economic impact of medicinal cannabis on patients with chronic disease.
The second study, hoping to conduct much-needed research in this area, is the Project Twenty21 study. This study aims to be one of the largest ever medicinal cannabis research projects. It aims to investigate the therapeutic potential of medicinal cannabis in 20,000 patients. Bod Pharmaceuticals, the company behind this trial, is also working with the University of Sydney, the University of Technology and the University of South Australia to help investigate the impacts of medicinal cannabis on chronic disease.
Both trials are ‘open-label observational trials’. This means that participants will know that they are taking the medicinal cannabis, unlike some other trials where some participants would take a mock treatment (placebo). Also, unlike some trials, there are costs associated with these trials; the trials will supply the medicinal cannabis at a discounted price. This is probably a reflection on the different commercial pipeline for medicinal cannabis compared to a conventional pharmaceutical agent, where intellectual property rights mean that companies can recoup their costs when the patented drug comes to market. It is important to note that both trials have received ethics approval from independent ethics committees.
MS Research Australia is pleased to see Australian trials exploring the use of medicinal cannabis in people with MS and look forward to bringing the MS community the results when these trials conclude.
These are just two examples of a wide range of important clinical trials and research studies currently underway in Australia. To find out more information about these trials, please visit our MS clinical trials website: www.mstrials.org.au.