Can Cannabidiol reduce symptoms in patients with kidney failure?

In December 2022, SSMRF awarded three Early Career Medical Research Grants. Dr Brendan Smyth, a kidney specialist at St George Hospital and Researcher at the University of Sydney, was one of the recipients of these grants for his project, Systematic Evaluation of Interventions for Symptom Management In Chronic Kidney Disease: Cannabidiol (SEISMIC: CBD).

The project is funded with grants from SSMRF and the University of Sydney.

The SEISMIC: CBD project aims to determine the safety, tolerability, and pharmacokinetics (the movement of drugs within the body) of cannabis wafers in people with kidney failure.

Kidney failure affects over 15,000 Australians[1]. Many suffer a variety of symptoms such as pain, itch, nausea, anorexia, restless legs, difficulty sleeping and fatigue. There are few treatments available, and many symptoms do not get better or go untreated.

The lack of studies to identify the most effective treatments inspired the SEISMIC: CBD research project: “People with kidney failure often suffer from many symptoms, often only indirectly related to their kidney disease. St George Hospital has led the way in developing clinics to help identify and address these symptoms, but there is a lack of clinical studies to tell us what the best treatments are,” explained Dr Smyth.

In a peer-reviewed paper[2] published in Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, Dr Smyth and his co-authors Dr Hayley Worth, Dr Daniel V O’Hara, Dr Neeru Agarwal, Dr David Collister and Dr Frank Brennan, wrote that “people with kidney failure can experience a range of symptoms that lead to suffering and poor quality of life. Available therapies are limited, and evidence for new treatment options is sparse, often resulting in incomplete relief of symptoms. There is growing interest in the potential for cannabinoids, including cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol, to treat symptoms across a wide range of chronic diseases.”

The paper states, “given the symptom burden experienced by individuals with kidney failure, there is an urgent need to understand the tolerability and safety of these agents in this population, which must ultimately be followed by robust, randomized controlled trials to determine if they are effective for symptom relief.”

Medicinal cannabis is known to help some health problems, including muscle spasms, pain, and nausea. It may also help with symptoms in people with poor kidney function. Despite this, medicinal cannabis has never been tested in people with poor kidney function. SEISMIC-CBD is a world-first study testing cannabidiol (CBD) – one of two key active components of cannabis – in people with kidney failure. It will help researchers find out how people with poor kidney function feel when they use CBD, what dosage to use and if there are any safety concerns.

The results of this study will provide doctors and patients with important information about how cannabis wafers, and medicines derived from cannabis, in general, might be used in people with symptoms associated with kidney failure.

On completion at the end of 2023, “we will know what dose of cannabidiol is safe and tolerable in people with kidney failure. This [research] will help us design a larger clinical trial to know if it works for specific symptoms.”

“Patients and doctors will have – for the first time ever – data on dose and tolerability of CBD in people with kidney failure. This will open up the field to further research so that everyone knows how and when CBD can be used safely and effectively,” explained Dr Smyth.

“This project is the first part of a planned broad program of studies investigating treatments for symptoms in people with kidney disease. We have collaborators in Australia, the UK and Canada currently working on the design and funding of the SEISMIC program,” said Dr Smyth.

Outside of work, Dr Smyth and his partner have a new baby. “Spending time with her is what I look forward to most at the moment.”

SSMRF CEO Pam Brown said “it is wonderful to see the money that we raise through the Foundation go towards such deserving medical research projects, such as this, in our local hospitals. We wish to fund more research projects each year and encourage our community to support our grants program. It is important to consider donating to worthy causes like life-changing medical research that improves the health and wellbeing of local families.”

Donate to medical research.

Dr Brendan Smyth



[2] Worth H, O’Hara DV, Agarwal N, Collister D, Brennan F, Smyth B. Cannabinoids for Symptom Management in Patients with Kidney Failure: A Narrative Review. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2022 Jun;17(6):911-921. doi: 10.2215/CJN.11560821

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