Researchers at Curtin University have launched the next phase of a nationwide medicinal cannabis study aiming to help improve the lives of people suffering from chronic pain.
There are over 3.6 million Australians living with chronic pain today and, according to Chronic Pain Australia, treatment and management are severely underfunded, with most Australians unable to afford out of pocket expenses.
The study, called The Global QUEST initiative, is led by researchers from Curtin University’s schools of Population Health and Public Health, and could become “the world’s largest study” of its kind.
The QUEST team says the aim of the study is to assess the efficacy of medicinal cannabis in treating chronic pain compared to current medications and whether medicinal cannabis can reduce the out-of-pocket costs for participants.
The study comes as medicinal cannabis use continues to grow, with doctors prescribing it to over 300,000 patients last year, doubling the 150,000 patients in 2021.
Lead researcher Richard Norman, from the Curtin School of Population Health, says people living with chronic conditions face significant challenges that impact their everyday life, and medicinal cannabis as a treatment option can help to reduce their level of suffering.
“We hope to gain more information about the benefits of using medicinal cannabis to treat chronic conditions and how we can make these types of medications more economical going forward,” Dr Norman says.
The original QUEST initiative began in 2021 and was led by researchers from the University of Sydney and recruited the maximum number of patients allowed (3,300).
According to the QUEST team, the preliminary results from the initial University of Sydney study have shown significant improvement in patient quality of life and is believed to be the world’s largest observational study into the treatment of chronic conditions using medicinal cannabis. However, the study still needs to be peer reviewed.
The new study will be conducted over five years and has no cap on candidate number, which is why the researchers believe it will be the world’s biggest study of its kind.
The research is being conducted in collaboration with Australian medicinal cannabis manufacturer Little Green Pharma to ensure consistency across study participants, who will be using either oral (cannabis oil) or dried flower medications.
Little Green Pharma’s Head of Research and Innovation Leon Warne says he is excited to be working with Curtin due to its strong reputation for quality research and real-world impact.
Dr Warne says information on patient quality of life will be collected and analysed through criteria such as mobility, functionality, pain, sleep issues, anxiety, and depression.
“The increased focus on health economics in QUEST Global will mean ongoing costs will be analysed and provide a framework for thinking about how Australia should allocate its limited health resources to meet people’s demands and needs for health care services, health promotion and prevention,” he says.