Are marijuana-based products the antidote for epileptic seizures?
A study released today is joining a growing chorus of research material that concludes cannabis oil can help reduce seizures for people with certain kinds of epilepsy.
Researchers say cannabidiol cut the number of seizures in half for a sizable number of children and adults with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), a severe form of epilepsy.
The results of the clinical study were presented today at the American Academy of Neurology 2017 Annual Meeting in Boston. The research was sponsored by GW Pharmaceuticals, a developer of cannabidiol.
“Our study found that cannabidiol shows great promise in that it may reduce seizures that are otherwise difficult to control,” said study author Dr. Anup Patel, of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, in a press release.
What the research showed
For their double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers followed 225 people for 14 weeks.
The LGS participants had an average age of 16 and had an average of 85 “drop seizures” a month. They had also tried an average of six epilepsy drugs that didn’t work for them and were taking an average of three epilepsy drugs during the study.
Some of the participants were given a dose of 20 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of cannabidiol daily. Others received a lower dose of 10 mg/kg daily or were given a placebo.
Researchers said those taking the higher dose had an overall decrease of 42 percent in drop seizures. In addition, 40 percent of this group had their seizures reduced by half or more.
The participants taking the lower dose had an average decrease of 37 percent in seizures. About 36 percent of this group experienced a decline in seizures by half or more.
The placebo group saw an overall decrease of 17 percent in seizures. About 15 percent had their seizures decline by half or more.
Researchers added that those in the high-dose group were 2.6 times more likely to say their overall condition had improved than the those taking the placebo.
There were side effects for 94 percent of those taking the higher dose and 84 percent of those taking the lower dose. About 72 percent of the placebo group reported side effects.
However, the side effects were mild to moderate symptoms such as loss of appetite and sleepiness according to the researchers.
The researchers said there are plans to submit a new drug application for cannabidiol to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“Our results suggest that cannabidiol may be effective for those with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome in treating drop seizures,” said Patel. “This is important because this kind of epilepsy is incredibly difficult to treat. While there were more side effects for those taking cannabidiol, they were mostly well tolerated. I believe that it may become an important new treatment option for these patients.”
A growing body of evidence
This research is the latest in a number of studies that have concluded marijuana-based products can help people with epilepsy.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has listed a number of these studies on its website.
They also tout a study published last month that concluded cannabis oil can reduce seizure frequency in people with refractory epilepsy.
On its website, the Epilepsy Foundation states that evidence from past research indicates cannabidiol can potentially be helpful to people with epilepsy. The organization does note that marijuana-based products have side effects. The group does support removing barriers to more cannabis research.
In January, Consumer Reports published an article stating that research on marijuana extracts’ ability to control seizures has been promising.
The publication, however, did urge some caution. It noted that cannabis products aren’t regulated by the FDA and that for some people taking epilepsy drugs is more effective than using marijuana-based medicine.
For officials at NORML, though, the case is clear.
“[The study] findings are encouraging, but not altogether surprising,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, told Healthline. “They confirm the testimonials of thousands of patients who have obtained seizure relief from cannabis-derived medicine when conventional treatment regimens have failed.”
The parents of Charlotte Figi are also convinced.
In 2013, the 7-year-old girl with Dravet syndrome was experiencing an average of 50 seizures a day.
Her parents, along with a Colorado-based medical marijuana group, obtained a high-concentration cannabidiol and started administering it to the young girl.
The parents told CNN the medication significantly reduced their daughter’s seizures.
A 2014 report published in the journal Epilepsia stated the girl’s seizures had been reduced to two to three nocturnal convulsions a month.
The researchers said the reduction had been constant for 20 months.
Armentano said it’s time for the United States to stop hampering cannabis-based research.
“One can only wonder how much sooner these alternative treatments would have been available and embraced by the medical community were it not for America’s longstanding stigmatization and criminalization of both cannabis and those who consume it,” he said.