Trial of cannabis pain drug to bring sufferers ‘back to the light’
When the pain from his cancer got too great and the pain medication made him argumentative and fuzzy, Kevin Jocumsen told his wife he was planning to walk in front of a bus.
His family intervened and just a few weeks later he was part of a clinical trial for a cannabis-derived treatment that would go on to completely change his quality of life.
Kevin Jocumsen with wife Leeanne. Mr Jocumsen was diagnosed with prostate cancer 13 years ago and doctors believed they had tackled it with surgery, but it returned eight years later.
This time the treatment only managed to keep the cancer at bay, and the 66-year-old was forced to go on strong pain medication on an ongoing basis.
The meds kept the pain at bay, he said, but they also altered his personality. The first prescription left him vague and tired, while the second caused violent mood swings. “During that period, my mental health suffered, with depression and anxiety. With the pain that was associated with it, I wasn’t in a really good place,” he said.
Professor Janet Hardy is conducting a major trial of pain treatments derived from cannabis. CREDIT: MATER His wife, Leeanne, said things reached their darkest point one day after several months of treatment and pain medication.
“He came out and said ‘I’m done, I’m going to find a bus and walk in front of it’, and I realised things had got really bad,” she said.
Mr Jocumsen’s family helped him through the following few days, and then they approached his doctor about alternatives.
“I said, ‘we can’t keep using these medications, but without them, it’s not bearable, his emotions are all over the place’,” Leeanne said.
Mr Jocumsen’s doctor was Professor Janet Hardy, Mater’s director of palliative and supportive care, who coincidentally was running a clinical trial of a cannabis-derived treatment for cancer sufferers.
Cannabis-derived medications have received a lot of attention in recent years, with public support growing to make various extracts legal for use in a medical context.
However there has not been a lot of actual medical research, until very recently, to confirm exactly what the benefits of cannabis extracts are. “CBD and THC are the most common cannabinoids, but we don’t know what combination to give them in, what dose to give them in,” Professor Hardy said. “No one has really carefully and objectively documented the adverse event profiles.”
The professor had completed a successful pilot study of a treatment using CBD, and was now embarking on a full trial of the treatment, which she invited Mr Jocumsen to join.
Although the study is now only just wrapping up and neither Professor Hardy nor Mr Jocumsen know whether he got the drug or the placebo, he appeared to respond well to the treatment.
“Everything was doom and gloom before the treatment, I’d burst into tears all the time and it wouldn’t take much to upset me,” he said. “Once I was on the CBD treatment, it was like coming out of a deep dark place into the light.”
Professor Hardy said that was consistent with how researchers were coming to understand how CBD in particular works. Rather than having a direct pain-killing effect, it improves overall mood, enabling patients to push through.
She said she hoped her study and other work being done around the world could work out the best way to use cannabis products to help patients like Mr Jocumsen.
“This won’t replace morphine, but we’re hoping it might be an ancillary drug that people could take along with their morphine to help them deal with their pain,” she said.
Mr Jocumsen and his wife are now planning a series of trips around the country – pandemic allowing – which he said wouldn’t have been possible without the cannabis extract treatment.
“We’re going to go around Australia in a caravan; we’re planning on six to eight months,” he said. “We thought we had this beaten and then the cancer came back, so we’re going to spend as much time enjoying ourselves as we can.”