Scientific Studies of Marijuana Show Promise in Epilepsy Patients
Since legalization on December 10, 2012, parents desperate for hope and improvement in their child’s health have gone to drastic measures to get Colorado medical marijuana. Over the past three years, we have heard story after story of how a marijuana extract known as cannabidol (CBD) or “Charlotte’s Web” has been sought by parents of children with catastrophic epileptic seizures. The extract is thought to reduce the frequency of seizures and the legalization of cannabis in Colorado has led to the relocation of many families for the chance of getting access to this “new” treatment option.
Despite the stories of inspiration and signs of improvement, the scientific community has not been as excited about the use of the drug as treatment for children with epilepsy. Since studies hadn’t been completed on the use of the extract, the results thus far have been completely anecdotal – meaning there is no science behind the individual results. Some even dismissed positive results altogether as wishful thinking. That’s when the clinical trials began.
Two studies were conducted and results presented last week at the annual meeting held by the American Epilepsy Society. Both studies used GW Pharmaceutical’s investigational medicine Epidiolex, a liquid formula of cannabidiol. Neither resulted in conclusive findings, however both showed some positive discoveries needing further investigation.
Led by the director of The Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at NYU Langone Medical Center, Orrin Devinsky, the first study involved 261 patients with severe epilepsy with the average age of 11 years old. Each patient was given a drop of CBD in addition to their normal anti-seizure medication routine for three months. According to The Cannabist, seizures amongst the group had been reduced overall by 45 percent. Conversely, there were negative effects that were encountered as part of the study as well.
Side effects such as diarrhea and changes to liver enzymes occurred in five percent of the patients. Another twelve percent didn’t complete the study and stopped taking the CBD dosage stating that there were no noticeable changes.
An additional study conducted at the University of California Benioff Children’s Hospital yielded a larger mix of results than the first study. This study took place over a one year period and only had 25 participants. Ten of the 25 children did experience a 50 percent reduction in their seizures. Twelve patients stopped taking the medication in this study as because it didn’t work. One patient began to have more frequent seizures.
What Does This Mean?
The studies combined are of a very small population of children living with debilitating epilepsy. While some results were positive, there is much more to study before we see the scientific community get behind cannabidiol as treatment for children with severe forms of epilepsy. While additional data will be available in the coming year, this is only the beginning of scientific research. Aside from the promising results in the studies, it is likely we will begin to see more studies conducted in the future.