marijuana for epilepsy

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.

“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.

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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 to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) based on this
research.

“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.”

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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.

Read more: Is the
acceptance of marijuana reaching a tipping point? »