Trial Suggests Medical Marijuana Could Offer Hope For Children With Severe Epilepsy

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Although many people advocate that medicinal marijuana can treat epilepsy, there have actually been few formal trials to demonstrate this, and the majority of evidence in support of its use for this condition has been anecdotal, rather than robustly scientific. In spite of this, some researchers believe it is still worth scrutinizing further, and it seems that their pursuit may have paid off as a new clinical trial has demonstrated that it could be effective in some individuals.

According to the study, a liquid form of medicinal marijuana may help prevent seizures in some children with severe epilepsy who have failed to respond to other treatments. Although further investigations are warranted, these promising early results will hopefully spur more research into the use of medicinal marijuana for those suffering with epilepsy, which could benefit the large number of patients who don’t respond to, or can’t tolerate, conventional treatments. The findings will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 67th Annual Meeting.

For the trial, scientists enrolled a total of 213 individuals, ranging from young children to adults, with 12 different types of severe epilepsy, some of which can cause intellectual disability. Participants were given cannabidiol, one of the active compounds in cannabis that is known to exert some medical effects but does not get people high. As the main goal was to investigate safety and tolerance, the trial was not placebo controlled, so all of the participants and trial leaders knew what was being administered.  

Some participants dropped out during the trial so they were not included in the analysis, but 137 completed the 12-week investigation. On average, the remaining individuals experienced a 54% decrease in the number of seizures throughout the duration of the trial. Furthermore, those with a particular type of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome experienced a similar reduction in the number of convulsive seizures. Of those who dropped out, 12 did so because of side effects, which were experienced in 10% of all trial participants. These included things like drowsiness, sleepiness and diarrhea.

While these results are certainly encouraging, especially since so few formal clinical trials have been conducted on this particular form of medical marijuana, it is unfortunately limited because it was not a controlled study and it was not blinded. Furthermore, at this stage it is unclear how the drug is causing this apparent reduction in seizures. But since it seems to be generally well-tolerated, hopefully larger and more in-depth studies can now be designed, which should tell us more about how effective it is.

[Via American Academy of Neurology and Live Science]

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