A tiny group of Victorian children will try synthetic cannabis as part of an international clinical trial to understand the effects of synthetic cannabis on severe epilepsy in kids.

The trial in Melbourne at Austin Health will begin in February with 10 children who have severe forms of epilepsy, and whose condition has not improved despite trying three different anti-epilepsy drugs.

Austin health director Ingrid Scheffer says the study, which will expand to include 60 children by the end of the year, is a first in Australia and is part of an international effort to understand the effects of synthetic cannabis on epilepsy in kids.

The drug developed by US pharmaceutical company Insys Therapeutics Inc to help children with refractory epilepsy is made from a synthetic version of a therapeutic compound found in the cannabis plant, called a cannabidiol.

Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Wednesday the government was dedicating $150,000 to the trial.

“[Medicinal cannabis] can potentially provide enormous benefits … to the quality of life of children that suffer from very severe forms of a whole range of different neurological conditions,” he told reporters.

Victoria has also joined a NSW-led trial into medicinal cannabis – due to begin at the end of 2016 – exploring the use of cannabis and cannabis-derived products in providing relief for severely ill patients.

The state government also hopes a series of cannabis cultivation trials will begin if the Access to Medicinal Cannabis Bill 2015 is passed in early 2016.

Scheffer said trialling synthetic cannabidiol was a safe option despite recent reports saying synthetic cannabis was more dangerous than plant-based cannabis.

“Cannabis has cannabidiol and THC, which is the psychoactive component, and that’s the part that is used at parties and to get high,” she said.

“We’re not giving THC, and that’s another reason the synthetic compound is exciting, because they won’t get any THC.”

Scheffer said results for the first phase of the trial – and there will be three phases – would hopefully be made available by the end of this year.

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