An Australian clinical study has found medicinal cannabis significantly improves pain, fatigue, anxiety and depression.
The Quality of Life Evaluation Study (QUEST Initiative) is one of the world’s largest longitudinal clinical studies investigating the effects of medicinal cannabis.
Analysis of three month follow-up results from 2,327 Australian patients participating in the initiative show very strong evidence of clinically meaningful improvements for those suffering health-related quality of life (HRQL) and fatigue, as well as clinically meaningful reductions in pain, and significant improvements for moderate-severe anxiety and depression.
Analysis of 12-month results are now underway, assessing whether these improvements are maintained over the longer term.
The QUEST study was led by the University of Sydney, with Little Green Pharma exclusively supplying the medicinal cannabis products to patients enrolled in the study.
The research was supported by not-for-proﬁt private health insurance provider Health Insurance Fund of Australia (HIF) and guided by an experienced advisory group.
The QUEST study was endorsed by a range of national bodies, including MS Research Australia, Chronic Pain Australia, Arthritis Australia and Epilepsy Australia.
Adult patients in Australia who were newly prescribed medicinal cannabis for health conditions – including chronic pain, fatigue, sleep, depression and anxiety – between November 2020 and December 2021 were invited to participate in the study.
Participants completed a questionnaire before starting medicinal cannabis treatment and then subsequent questionnaires two weeks after commencing treatment, and every 1-2 months thereafter for up to one year.
Overall, 2,327 Australian patients aged between 18 to 97 years (average 51 years) participated in the study of which 63 per cent of overall participants were female. Patients were recruited across six states by 120 independent doctors, a point of difference to the study.
The most-reported conditions being treated were chronic pain (69 per cent); sleep disorders (23 per cent); anxiety (22 per cent); and anxiety/depression (11 per cent). Half the patients were being treated for more than one condition.
Results from the first three-months of patients using medicinal cannabis found there was very strong evidence of clinically meaningful improvements in HRQL and fatigue across all health conditions assessed.
However, three-month results for those patients assessed for sleep disorders found no change, despite the very strong evidence of statistical improvement in feelings of fatigue. It’s worth noting that these findings reﬂect the grouping of all medicinal cannabis oil formulations used by participants and that further analysis of the 12 month findings will seek to identify whether specific product formulations had differing impact on sleep.
Given the strict eligibility criteria for medicinal cannabis prescription in Australia, where patients must have exhausted conventional treatment options, these outcomes hold substantial clinical significance. It’s remarkable for a single medication to exhibit a positive impact on treatment-resistant patients across such a broad range of medical conditions.
Dr Jamie Rickcord, an independent General Practitioner involved in the QUEST Initiative, said ‘The QUEST results show that medicinal cannabis provides statistically, and more importantly, clinically significant improvements in pain levels, fatigue and quality of life for patients.
‘Doctors can have confidence in offering medicinal cannabis treatment as an option to those who qualify for it as result of emerging real-world data provided by initiatives such as QUEST.’
Due to the positive findings of this study, a new investigation called the Global QUEST Initiative is recruiting patients to determine the health economic impact of medicinal cannabis.
Commenting on the three month findings, Little Green Pharma’s Head of Research and Innovation Dr Leon Warne said, ‘Little Green Pharma is extremely proud to support this significant study into the effect of medicinal cannabis on patient quality of life.
‘These initial results are highly encouraging, highlighting meaningful improvements in health-related quality of life and fatigue levels as well as improvements to health conditions associated with anxiety, depression and pain among Australian patients who participated in the study.
‘As well as the medical benefits to patients, this study was able to provide access to experienced prescribers and more affordable medication.
‘We now look forward to what the 12 month results show in terms of longer-term impact of medicinal cannabis on QUEST patients.’
In 2020, Health Insurance Fund of Australia became the first major Australian health fund to declare support for access to medicinal cannabis treatments and research in Australia. HIF CEO Justin James said studies like the QUEST Initiative provide insights that are valuable not just for HIF and its members, but the health insurance industry as a whole.
‘We are always interested in supporting studies into the health effectiveness of medicinal cannabis,’ he said. ‘They allow us to gain more information about the effectiveness of using medicinal cannabis to treat chronic conditions and how we can make these types of medications more economical going forward.’
Health Insurance Fund of Australia has also pledged its support for the next phase of the study, QUEST Global.
‘HIF proudly provides choice to members so they can have the flexibility to control their own medical outcomes,’ said Mr James.
‘Supporting members with medicinal cannabis as a treatment option is another choice that we are proud to provide members,’ he said. ‘HIF members will once again have priority access to QUEST Global as participants, provided they meet the eligibility criteria.’