Cannabis Australia
Droplets of oil form on the surface of a Cannabis plant in a state-owned agricultural farm in Rovigo, about 60 km (40 miles) from Venice, September 22, 2014. Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

University of Canberra researchers will be collaborating with a pharmaceutical company to test the effectiveness of medical marijuana in treating melanoma. Israel-based Cann Pharmaceutical will be providing specific medical-grade strains of cannabis with the university announcing a $1 million deal with the company. The cannabis strains will be administered to patients with current standard of care for melanoma sufferers. Clinical trials are set to begin in the ACT next year.

The two-year research project would be led by cellular and molecular biologist professor Sudha Rao, who will analyse how cannabis may be used together with radiation and other therapies to treat skin cancer. Cann Pharmaceutical Australia’s managing director Andrew McCrea believes that results of the first trials may be obtained as soon as next year. Rao thinks the research may benefit nearly 55,000 Australians who live with skin cancer.

“Australians have the highest rate of melanoma in the world, with estimates of more than 13,000 new cases to be diagnosed in 2016 alone. When you consider that melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australia and New Zealand, and almost 1,800 people will die as a result of this cancer this year, we need to work harder at finding effective treatments,” Rao said in a University of Canberra statement.

Global producer Cann Pharmaceutical’s medical grade marijuana is already used to treat more than 2,500 people every month suffering from various problems such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. The company decided to work with the university due to Rao’s innovative research. Rao had previously worked on recurrence of aggressive cancers including breast cancer.

“We understand it is the first time in the world these cannabinoids​ will be used with standard treatment therapies to treat melanoma. Because Professor Rao, her laboratory and the strains of cannabinoids ​from Israel are so advanced, by putting them together hopefully we're going to be able to make a real difference in Australians with melanoma,” McCrea told The Sydney Morning Herald.

The cannabinoids will be administered in patients along with chemotherapy. The scientists will be closely monitoring the impact of cannabis on melanoma stem cells.