Senior Researcher Associate Professor Claudia Rutherford. Top of page: Blooming cannabis credit My 450 Tours, Wikimedia Commons.

Researchers at the University of Sydney have launched the QUEST Initiative, a comprehensive longitudinal study for medical cannabis patients.

The QUEST initiative is said to be one of the largest studies in the world examining the quality of life outcomes of patients who have been prescribed medicinal cannabis. The study aims to recruit at least 2,100 patients by June 2021 – the minimum sample size (number of patients recruited) to achieve statistical relevance – with the potential to expand this study internationally.

“What makes our study unique is the comprehensive set of patient reports – or PROs – that are assessed on patients who have been prescribed medical cannabis,” said Study Director Associate Professor Claudia Rutherford.

The QUEST initiative tries to assess changes in patient conditions and symptoms based on self-reported results on quality of life. Information on patient mobility, functionality, pain or discomfort, anxiety and depression, medication requirements and ongoing health costs are collected and analyzed.

Federal Minister of Health, the Hon. Greg Hunt, commented:

“The QUEST initiative represents a significant Australian contribution to the global need for reliable, objective and clinically relevant data on the quality of life of patients who have access to medical cannabis treatments for a wide range of chronic diseases.

“It is also commendable to see an entirely homegrown Australian study supported by a leading Australian higher education institution, stakeholders and industry participants.

“I would like to congratulate the University of Sydney and the study’s supporters on making such an important clinical contribution to helping Australian prescribers and patients gain a better understanding of medical cannabis. I look forward to the results of the study to check in due course. “

About the study

The study is currently open and is expected to be completed in March 2022. It is the first in a comprehensive suite of measures to improve the quality of life in Australia of patients prescribed medicinal cannabis for all permitted conditions under the Special Access Scheme.

The study is led by researchers, with Principal Researcher Associate Professor Claudia Rutherford, Assistant Director of the Sydney Quality of Life Office and researcher in the Faculty of Medicine and Health, responsible for protocol and methodology design, analysis and reporting of study results with ethics – Approval of the study, Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC).

The QUEST initiative is led by an advisory group and endorsed by a number of national agencies including MS Research Australia, Chronic Pain Australia, Arthritis Australia, Epilepsy Action Australia and the Health Insurance Fund of Australia (HIF).

Associate Professor Rutherford noted that the study objectives were twofold:

  1. To track changes in patient-reported outcomes (PRO) over a year in a large cohort of patients, cannabis drugs have been prescribed for a variety of conditions.
  2. A secondary goal is to compare differences in PROs between patients who have access to medicinal cannabis under different health conditions.

“Medical cannabis has been studied in a wide range of chronic diseases and diseases, but quality of life studies are limited. The QUEST study is unique in its approach and focuses on both health economics and quality of life measures rather than effectiveness for a particular symptom or condition, ”said Associate Professor Rutherford.

“With this approach, the QUEST initiative can potentially provide future critical insights into a patient’s health over time and help us better understand whether the introduction of medicinal cannabis will cost-effectively improve a patient’s well-being.”

The study is designed to enroll a large cohort of patients with a wide range of chronic conditions and conditions such as chronic pain, cancer pain, neuropathic pain, insomnia, anxiety, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.