The Grapevine

Marijuana Extract May Reduce Seizure Frequency In Children With Severe Epilepsy

Cannabis Oil
Cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound in marijuana, might reduce the number of seizures people with severe epilepsy experience. Andres Rodriguez, CC BY 2.0

While not everyone has warmed to the idea of treating medical conditions with marijuana, research continues to emerge supporting its benefits. This applies the most, perhaps, to children with severe conditions, who may benefit just as much as adults from medical marijuana treatment — even as concerns about its effects on their developing minds and bodies arise. But a new study shows how marijuana might still be used to treat children (and adults) with untreatable epilepsy, safely and without the drug’s typical effects.

The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting. It found that a compound in marijuana, called cannabidiol, could reduce the number of seizures people with various severe forms of epilepsy experienced. Cannabidiol differs from other cannabinoids because it doesn’t induce the characteristic high tied to marijuana’s use. At the same time, previous research has suggested it could shrink tumors, relieve chronic pain, and treat people with psychiatric disorders.

For the study, 213 people varying in age from toddlers to adults (median age 11) took an orally administered liquid form of cannabidiol each day. Many of the patients had Dravet syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, both of which can cause intellectual disability and lifelong seizures — the rest of the patients had one of 10 other types of severe epilepsy.

The researchers found that after 12 weeks of taking the drug, the 137 people who completed the study experienced a 54 percent drop in the number of seizures. Breaking that down a bit, people with Dravet syndrome experienced a 53 percent drop in the number of convulsive seizures, while those with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome saw a 55 percent reduction in atonic seizures — these tend to cause a sudden loss in muscle tone.

“So far, there have been few formal studies on this marijuana extract,” said study author Dr. Orrin Devinsky, from New York University’s Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, in a press release. “These results are of great interest, especially for the children and their parents who have been searching for an answer to these debilitating seizures.”

It turns out some parents have already resorted to cannabidiol-rich marijuana to treat their children’s epilepsy. Last November, for example, an 8-year-old Oregonian boy named Forrest began taking cannabis oil-filled capsules after the anti-epileptic drugs he was taking caused serious side effects like aggression and suicidal thoughts — the oil helped. Other parents have taken the same route, sometimes putting themselves at risk of lawful consequences.

In January, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement recommending the Drug Enforcement Administration reclassify marijuana as a schedule II substance due to the possibility it could treat “children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions and for whom current therapies are inadequate.”

Source: Devinsky O, et al. At The American Academy of Neurology’s 67th Annual Meeting. 2015. 

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