Cannabis-based drug reduces seizures by over 30 percent in children with severe epilepsy

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Cannabis plant
A cannabis plant is pictured during a gathering demanding the legalisation of cannabis in Athens' Syntagma Square, May 9, 2015. Reuters/Kostas Tsironis

A cannabis-based drug has significantly reduced the number of seizures in children and young adults who are suffering from severe cases of epilepsies and are no longer responding to standard anti-epileptic drugs. The purified cannabinoid called Epidiolex reduced the monthly motor seizures of the patients by 36.5 percent on its initial trial.

The patients, who commonly experience 30 motor seizures a month before the trial, experienced only 15.8 motor seizures in 12 weeks when treated with Epidiolex. Researchers from UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco said the drug could lead to a new treatment for young patients with epilepsies that would be more safe and effective.

The trial involved 162 patients aged between one and 30 with intractable epilepsies and have been resistant to most anti-epileptic treatments. Researchers provided Epidiolex to all the patients over a 12-week period.

Epidiolex is delivered in liquid form and the researchers noted that it contains no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychotropic component in cannabis.

"This trial is pioneering a new treatment for children with the most severe epilepsies, for whom nothing else works," said Dr. Maria Roberta Cilio, senior author and director of research at the UCSF Pediatric Epilepsy Centre. "This open label study found that CBD (Cannabidiol) both reduces the frequency of seizures and has an adequate safety profile in children and young adults.”

The participants involved in the study, published in The Lancet Neurology, have a condition called Dravet syndrome which is a rare genetic disorder developed in early childhood. Dravet syndrome can cause frequent disabling seizures every day and profound cognitive and social deficits.

"Better treatment for children with uncontrolled seizures is desperately needed," Cilio said. "It's important to get seizure control at any age, but in children, uncontrolled seizures may impact brain and neurocognitive development, which can have an extraordinary effect on quality of life and contribute to progressive cognitive impairment."

The researchers plan to conduct randomised controlled trials to further see the effectiveness and safety of Epidiolex. However, they noted that the drug is considered a schedule 1 substance, which has a high potential for abuse and is currently being closely monitored and restricted by the FDA.

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