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Marijuana extract halves seizures in children with epilepsy

While not effective for all patients, two studies found cannabidiol is effective on its own or in combination with other drugs used to treat epilepsy.

By Stephen Feller
Marijuana extract halves seizures in children with epilepsy
Cannabidiol is a non-psychoactive derivative of marijuana that has been approved for research or sale in several states to treat children with severe epilepsy. Photo by Brian Goodman/Shutterstock

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 8 (UPI) -- Two studies presented at an epilepsy conference this week show cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive derivative of marijuana, can help children with severe and rare forms of the condition.

Four studies are expected to be presented at the American Epilepsy Society's annual meeting in Philadelphia showing CBD can effectively be used to reduce seizures in patients for whom other treatments have not worked.

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While two of the studies were focused on animal models -- ability to tolerate CBD, and how it interacts with other medications -- the other two tested the short- and long-term effects of the marijuana-based drug in children.

The approval of CBD for testing, if not sale, in several states, including Kentucky, Alabama, and Florida, should make it easier for doctors to treat patients with epilepsy. Dr. Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, told NPR he has had families move to Colorado to try CBD products or obtain them in other ways, which can make it difficult to know what is and is not working, and how.

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"We are pleased to report these promising data on significant numbers of children," Devinsky said in a press release. "These data reinforce and support the safety and efficacy we have shared in previous studies. Most importantly it is providing hope to the children and their families who have been living with debilitating seizures."

Devinsky led a three-month study of 261 children and young adults with an average age of 11.8 years. The most common diagnoses for participants were Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome.

After three months of treatment, seizures among participants were reduced by a median of 45.1 percent in all patients, and 62.7 percent in DS patients. Among all patients, 47 percent saw at least a 50 percent reduction in seizures, researchers reported. Nine percent of overall patients, and 13 percent of those with DS, were seizure-free after the three-month treatment.

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Researchers also reported co-therapy with clobazam, or Onfi, was also associated with a higher rate of seizure reduction.

After the initial three-month study, researchers at the University of California San Francisco enrolled 25 of the same patients for a new study to be treated with CBD for another year. Seizure frequency was calculated at follow-ups at three and 12 months into the study, with researchers considering a 50 percent reduction in seizures a response to treatment.

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Three months into the study, eight patients responded to CBD, three of whom were seizure-free and five with at least a 50 percent reduction in seizures. At 12 months, 10 of the 25 patients achieved at least a 50 percent reduction in seizures, with one patient still seizure free.

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In addition, 12 patients discontinued CBD treatment because it didn't work, and one was taken off the drug because of an increase in seizure frequency doctors thought was related to the treatment.

"These data reinforce and support the safety and efficacy we have shared in previous studies," Devinsky said. "Most importantly it is providing hope to the children and their families who have been living with debilitating seizures."

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