New data emerged from the American Epilepsy Society’s 68th annual meeting in Philadelphia affirming the efficacy of taking cannabidiol (CBD) to treat severe epilepsy. CBD happens to also be an active ingredient in marijuana.

The medication, commercially known as Epidiolex, is a liquid form of CBD and is currently in the third phase of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) clinical trials. Four new studies presented during the AES meeting explore the efficacy and safety of the drug in younger epileptic patients, as well the potential for CBD to interact with other anti-epileptic drugs patients may be taking, respectively.

One study involved 261 people with severe epilepsy, mostly children around age 11, who had not been responsive to other treatments; epileptics are encouraged to find the right medicine in order to control seizures. In addition to their current regimen — some patients were taking at least three other anti-epileptic medications — patients were given Epidiolex in gradually increasing doses. Families and caregivers were asked to keep track of how many seizures patients experienced, as clinicians tested patients' hematologic, liver and kidney function prior to the start of patients' 12-week treatment; they tested again at four, eight, and 12 weeks.

The results showed Epidiolex helped reduce seizures by a median of 45 percent, while almost half of patients experienced an over 50 percent reduction, with 9 percent being declared seizure-free. For children, especially, this is major: Separate research shows seizures often increase risk for learning disabilities.

There were, however, some adverse effects: 10 percent of patients experienced effects, including somnolence, diarrhea, and fatigue, in addition to 12 percent of patients withdrawing when the regimen proved ineffective.

Still, lead study author Dr. Orrin Devinsky, of New York University Langone Medical Center's Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, said in a press release that the overall findings are promising — it reinforces and supports the safety and efficacy researchers have seen in earlier studies, he said. And most of all, it's new hope for those living with debilitating seizures.

We're curious, though: If this medication is basically liquid marijuana, do younger patients risk getting high? Considering cannabinoids are received by the brain's endocannabinoid system, are researchers concerned for an epileptic child's development?

No and no, Devinsky told Medical Daily in an email. The CBD regimen he's prescribed in his studies does not contain marijuana's psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the ingredient largely responsible for that high feeling, and without it, Devinsky doesn't believe there's potential for Epidiolex to be abused.

"There are no known neurodevelopmental effects of CBD in humans although this has not been well studied for CBD, nor any of the FDA-approved anti-seizure medications," he said.

The second study presented at AES suggested CBD works best as a supplement to other treatment, or an "add-on" to patients’ existing therapy. The third and fourth study worked with animal models, with the former finding CBD “exerted significant anticonvulsant effects and was well-tolerated in rodents.”

That said, more research needs to be done. Devinsky said these results are from an uncontrolled study and they'll need to be confirmed down the line. But he believes there's much to be hopeful for during 2016.

Source: American Epilepsy Society's 69th Annual Meeting. 2015.