Cannabis extract reduces seizures in children with rare form of epilepsy
As the medical community slowly shakes off the 20th century stigmatization of marijuana, we are finally seeing solid clinical evidence to back up what has long been anecdotally observed. A new clinical trial has provided strong evidence that cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant, significantly reduces the frequency of seizures in children with a rare form of epilepsy.
The study conducted at NYU Langone Medical Center tracked 120 children with a condition known as Dravet Syndrome. The condition is a severe form of epilepsy with limited treatment options that strikes the patient with frequent and prolonged seizures. The trial used a liquid formulation of CBD called Epidolex, produced by GW Pharmaceuticals, which also funded the study.
Over a 14-week period, half of the children received CBD treatment in addition to their regular medications. The results were reasonably convincing, showing seizures in the CBD group dropping on average 39 percent, with three patients' seizures stopping completely. In comparison, there was only a 13 percent reduction in seizures in the group who received a placebo treatment.
However, significant side effects were noted from the CBD treatment, with over 90 percent of patients reporting mild or moderate negative effects. These included vomiting, fatigue and fever, with eight participants in the CBD group dropping out of the trial due to these negative reactions.
A huge wave of research is currently looking to find a clinical CBD treatment for epilepsy. Most notably, in terms of developing a novel administration method, is a Melbourne-based trial that's underway using a CBD gel that is rubbed into the skin to offer a controlled release of the compound into a patient's system.
The journal Epilepsy and Behavior has also just devoted an entire issue to the the drug. The wide-ranging special edition covers everything from the historical connections between cannabis and epilepsy, to the legal challenges in developing new treatments.
Orrin Devinsky, lead investigator on this recent successful clinical trial, cautions against patients and doctors acting too bullish when looking at these results. He notes that although CBD's effectiveness in treating some forms of epilepsy is becoming clearer, there are still safety and dosage issues that need to be resolved before a widespread medicine is available.
"Cannabidiol should not be viewed as a panacea for epilepsy, but for patients with especially severe forms who have not responded to numerous medications, these results provide hope that we may soon have another treatment option," Devinsky says.
The results of the trial were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Take a look at Dr Orrin Devinsky and a family enrolled in the trial discussing the effects of the treatment in the video below.
Source: NYU Langone Medical Center