Research and evidence


The evidence for cannabis medicines

While showing therapeutic potential, cannabis is a highly complex plant and significant gaps remain in our knowledge. We don’t fully understand the hundreds of chemical compounds that make up the plant or the intricacies of the human endocannabinoid system.

Currently, most cannabis medicines available in Australia are unregistered, meaning they haven’t been fully assessed by the Australian Government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for safety and efficacy, although they do need to meet a quality standard. As with all medicines, the potential benefits and harms need to be rigorously investigated and assessed against established treatment options.

The TGA, with the support of the NSW, Victorian and Queensland state governments, commissioned a team to review the available scientific evidence for the use of cannabis medicines in five areas: palliative care, nausea and vomiting, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and pain. A summary of the review for consumers has been developed, which can be found on the TGA website here.

It is important to note that even for the more studied cannabinoids, the effects of high-dose long-term exposure is unclear. Cannabinoids act on many areas of the body including the neurological, cardiovascular and immune systems. As such they may provide potential benefits and harms, just as any other substance may do.

Research in NSW

NSW has a supportive environment for research into cannabis medicines and the NSW Government continues to encourage and support research in our higher education, health and industry sectors to drive advances in this emerging field.

There are currently a number of universities and research centres across NSW conducting research across a range of fields (see below). NSW is also home to leading institutes including:

Epilepsy 

Project:  Novel Cannabinoids for epilepsy
Institution: The University of Sydney
Lead researchers: Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold, Dr Lyndsey Anderson, Professor Iain McGregor
Collaboration Team: Dilara Bahceci, Sarah Abelev

Project: PELICAN – Paediatric Epilepsy Lambert Initiative Cannabinoid Analysis study
Institutions: The University of Sydney, Epilepsy Action Australia, Epilepsy Queensland, Queensland Government
Lead researchers: Ms Anastasia Suraev, Ms Ruth Blackburn, Professor Iain McGregor, Professor Nick Lintzeris, Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold
Collaboration team: Dr Richard Kevin

Project: Novel targets for cannabinoids
Institution: The University of Sydney
Lead researcher: Professor Mary Collins (Chebib)
Collaboration team: Dr Michael Bowen, Professor Iain McGregor, Professor Jonathon Arnold, Dr Nathan Absalom, Mr Timothy Bakas, Dr Steven Devinesh

Cancer and cancer-related symptoms

Project: Anticancer properties of low-THC medicinal cannabis
Institution: The University of Newcastle
Lead researchers: Dr Matthew Dun, Dr Mengna Chi, Associate Professor Jenny Schneider, Dr Nicole Verrills

Project: Novel cannabinoids for cancer
Institutions: The University of Sydney, Kolling Institute, NSW Health (Royal North Shore Hospital)
Lead researchers: Dr Emily Colvin, Dr Amanda Hudson, Associate Professor Viive Howell, Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold, Professor Iain McGregor
Collaboration team: Dr Lyndsey Anderson

Pain 

Project: Novel cannabinoids for neuropathic pain
Institutions: The University of Sydney, Kolling Institute, NSW Health (Royal North Shore Hospital)
Lead researchers: Dr Chris Vaughan, Professor Iain McGregor, Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold
Collaboration team: Bryony Winters, Hyo-Jin Jeong, Patrick Seow, Sherelle Casey, Nicholas Atwal Hannah Clements, Vanessa Mitchell

Project: Pain in cannabis users
Institutions: The University of Sydney, The Lambert Initiative, The Langton Centre
Lead researchers: Associate Professor, Mr Thomas Arkell, Ms Jessica Driels, Dr Bridin Murnion, Professor Nick Lintzeris, Professor Iain McGregor
Collaboration team: Jordyn Stuart

Neurogenerative diseases 

Project: Cannabinoids and motor neurone disease
Institutions: Western Sydney University, Macquarie University, Neuroscience Research Australia
Lead researchers: Associate Professor Tim Karl, Co-Investigator Professor Roger Chung

Project: Alzheimer's disease
Institutions: Western Sydney University, Neuroscience Research Australia, University of Wollongong, UNSW
Lead researchers: Associate Professor Tim Karl, Professor Brett Garner, Dr Arne Ittner and Prof Lars Ittner

Project: Frontotemporal dementia
Institutions: Western Sydney University, Neuroscience Research Australia, UNSW
Lead researchers: Associate Professor Tim Karl, Co-Investigators Dr Arne Ittner and Professor Lars Ittner

Mental Health

Project: Schizophrenia
Institutions: The University of Newcastle, Neuroscience Research Australia, UNSW
Lead researcher: Professor Deborah Hodgson

Project: Schizophrenia
Institutions: Western Sydney University, Neuroscience Research Australia, UNSW
Lead researchers: Associate Professor Tim Karl, Co-Investigator Professor Cyndi Weickert

Project: Cannabis, fear and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Institutions: The University of Sydney, (Sydney Local Health District/ Professor Marie Bashir Centre Tilray) NSW Health
Lead researchers: Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold, Professor Iain McGregor, Professor Nicholas Glozier
Collaboration team: Marieke Graat, Hannah Gutmann, Associate Professor Hamish MacDougall, Dr Christine Rabinak, Professor Jan Ramaekers, Professor Nicholas Lintzeris, Professor Paul Haber, Victor Trevino

Project: Cannabidiol for adolescent anxiety
Institutions: Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, The University of Sydney
Lead researchers: Professor Paul Amminger, Professor Patrick McGorry, Professor Henry Jackson, Professor Iain McGregor
Collaboration team: Dr Aswin Rateesh, Dr Sophie Adams, Dr Maximus Berger, Dr Emily Li, Dr Richard Kevin

Project: Addiction
Institutions: UNSW, UTS
Lead researchers: Professor Jan Copeland, Associate Professor Shanlin Fu

Project: Novel cannabinoids for addiction
Institutions: Macquarie University, The University of Sydney
Lead researchers: Associate Professor Jennifer Cornish, Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold, Professor Iain McGregor
Collaboration team: Professor Paul Haber, Professor Nick Lintzeris

Cannabinoid research

Project: The cannabis ‘entourage effect’
Institutions: The University of Sydney, Macquarie University
Lead researchers: Professor Mark Connor, Professor Iain McGregor, Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold
Collaboration team: Dr Marina Santiago, Dr Jordyn Stuart, Dr Richard Kevin

Project: Cannabis as medicine survey (CAMS)
Institution: The University of Sydney
Lead researcher: Professor Nick Lintzeris
Collaboration team: Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold, Professor Iain McGregor

Project: Driving in cannabis users
Institutions: The University of Sydney, Tilray
Lead researchers: Thomas Arkell, Professor Nick Lintzeris, Paul Haber, Professor Iain McGregor
Collaboration team: Jordyn Stuart, Chris Irwin
Project: Neurological disorders – Parkinson’s disease, dementia and cerebral palsy
Institution: The University of Sydney

Project: Exercise and endocannabinoids
Institutions: University of Sydney, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, Sydney Local Health District (The Langton Centre and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital)
Lead researchers: Professor Nicholas Lintzeris, Dr Kieron Rooney, Associate Professor David Allsop, Associate Professor Jonathon Arnold, Professor Iain McGregor
Collaboration team: Dr Mark Montebello, Dr Raimondo Bruno, Professor Paul Haber, Dr Bridin Murnion, Dr Anjali Bhardwaj, Dr Richard Kevin, Dr Jordyn Stuart

Project: Medicinal chemistry of cannabinoids
Institutions: University of Sydney (The Lambert Initiative), School of Chemistry, School of Pharmacy
Lead researchers: Dr Steven Devenish, Professor Iain McGregor
Collaboration team: Dr Jia Lao, Dr Samuel Banister