Cannabis treatment of Epilepsy and other seizures have been researched and documented for quite a few years now. In recent times the push to legalise cannabis has sharply increased interest in scientific studies for the health benefits of both medical marijuana and CBD made from non-psychoactive hemp.
In the USA, an eight year old girl with Dravet syndrome, a rare and debilitating form of epilepsy, attracted public interest with the news that medical marijuana achieved what other drugs could not: dramatically reduce her seizures. New scientific research has provided evidence that cannabis may be an effective treatment for some epilepsy patients who, like Charlotte, have a treatment-resistant form of the disease.
In late 2015 Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist at a New York University Medical Centre, and his colleagues across multiple research centres published results from the largest study to date of a cannabis-based drug for treatment-resistant epilepsy in The Lancet Neurology.
The researchers treated 162 patients with an extract of 99 percent cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive chemical in marijuana, and monitored them for 12 weeks. This treatment was given as an add-on to the patients’ existing medications and the trial was open-label, which means that everyone knew what they were taking.
The researchers reported that the intervention reduced motor seizures at a rate similar to existing drugs (a median of 36.5 percent) and 2 percent of patients became completely seizure free.
Additionally, 79 percent of patients reported adverse effects such as sleepiness, diarrhoea and fatigue, although only 3 percent dropped out of the study due to adverse events. Kevin Chapman, a neurology and paediatric professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who was not involved in the study stated “I was a little surprised that the overall number of side effects was quite high but it seems like most of them were not enough that the patients had to come off the medication.” He went on to say “I think that [this study] provides some good data to show that it is relatively safe – the adverse effects were mostly mild and [although] there were serious adverse effects, it’s always hard to know in such a refractory population whether that would have occurred anyway.”
Scientists are focusing on the potential benefits of CBD, one of the main compounds in cannabis. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for its euphoric effects, CBD does not cause a high or pose the same type of risks that researchers have identified for THC, such as addiction and cognitive impairment. Rather, studies have shown that it can act as an anticonvulsant and may even have antipsychotic effects.
Scientists agree the study is an important step in establishing CBD as a safe and effective epilepsy treatment. Evidence suggesting that CBD is effective against treatment-resistant epilepsy may be growing but scientists still know very little about how it works other than the likelihood that it is completely different than any other seizure drug known.