Medical Marijuana Might Help Kids With the Worst Forms of Epilepsy

While for many people epilepsy is a manageable condition, there are some forms of the disorder that can be debilitating, especially for young people who are not equipped to deal with their condition. Now, new research suggests that a marijuana extract could help to reduce symptoms in some of the most severe cases of epilepsy.

The research, which is not yet published but is being presented at the American Academy of Neurology Conference which commenced on April 18, showed that a liquid form of marijuana appeared to cut seizure events by more than 50 percent in children and adults with relatively rare but often debilitating conditions such as Dravet or Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy of Infancy (SMEI) syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. 

While the conditions are distinct, they both are resistant to conventional treatment methods. They tend to involve having what are known as “drop seizures” where sufferers will fall to the ground and have prolonged seizure events, or “absence seizures” which are more frequent and where sufferers will zone out for anywhere between a few seconds to a minute. Children with these conditions are often also at much higher risk of seizure-related death, and have a number of associated conditions including slower and impaired behavioral and cognitive development and a higher rate of associated mood and behavioral disorders.

Obviously, reducing the frequency of seizures is a major goal for researchers wanting to treat these disorders. However, epilepsy has proved difficult to treat for some people, and so researchers have been forced to look to less conventional methods of treatment in order to try and provide relief from what can be an incredibly challenging health condition.

At the same time, researchers have been aware for quite a while now of anecdotal reports that adults with treatment-resistant seizures have found that medical marijuana (or even just marijuana) appears to cut the frequency and sometimes severity of their seizures. In fact, this has even prompted some people to move across the U.S. in order to live in state where medical marijuana is legal and easy to access.

As such, researchers at the NYU Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center together with the NYU Langone Medical Center wanted to test whether there is any hard data to be found that would support these claims. In order to do that, the researchers enrolled 213 people in what’s known as an “open-label study.” Usually, researchers would keep the treatment options a secret so that it doesn’t affect their results. However, because of this study’s design, the fact that it involved a form of medical marijuana, and that the participants’ ages ranged from 2 to 42 years-old (median age 11), it was important that participants knew exactly what treatment they were getting.

With that in mind, and as touched on above, the researchers used a liquid form of marijuana known as cannabidiol to test whether it would have any measurable impact on seizure events. An important note is that cannabidiol drugs do not contain THC, the active chemical in marijuana that causes hallucinatory experiences so no patient in this study could “get high.”

For the trial the participants were given a liquid daily dose that was gradually increased up to a maximum of 25mg/kg over a period of 12 weeks. Of the 137 patients who completed the study, measurable seizure events decreased by an average of 54 percent during that 12-week period, strongly suggesting that cannabidiols are worth exploring in more detail.

There were side-effects that even led to some patients dropping of the trial though, including 21 percent of participants reporting drowsiness, 17 percent saying they experienced diarrhea and other ailments including fatigue and a reduction in appetite. These side effects probably would have been expected as, in what other limited trials we have using marijuana extracts, they tend to pop up quite frequently. However, some patients reported unusual cluster seizures, where seizures happen in rapid succession, and some liver problems, so obviously these need to be thoroughly investigated.

Obviously, there were some limitations to this study–though it’s worth pointing out that this research was always meant to be a starting point rather than trying to prove anything in particular. The main issue of course is the fact that the study was an open-label investigation. Future studies, say the researchers, will be randomized, placebo-controlled trials, so as to categorically rule out a placebo effect.

However, they remain optimistic that this research opens promising avenues of investigation. ”We’re very encouraged by the data,” said Orrin Devinsky, director of the NYU Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center. Devinsky goes on to stress however that while we may hear a lot about the potential benefits of medical marijuana, it’s important we concentrate on facts. “In this national climate of increased acceptance towards medical marijuana, it is crucial that scientifically-validated research, not policy, guides patient care.”

The federal government’s antagonism toward marijuana has been cited has a roadblock to wider clinical research, and one that will need to be tackled in future if  we are to fully explore the possible benefits of cannabidiol drugs in a timely manner.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

53 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C3 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Harsha Vardhana R
Harsha V3 years ago

Thanks for the spread of awareness. Yes, marijuana has extra-ordinary healing powers and many Indian Yogis regularly use it in many ways! Nicotine lobby has defamed it!

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Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Miki w.
Past Member 3 years ago

I need marijuana to survive the financial crisis

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Darren Woolsey
Darren W3 years ago

Legalizing drugs would remove stigma and also reduce the power and force that the illegal drug world has.

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Brian F.
Brian F3 years ago

It's time to legalize it. Besides medical marijuana, hemp which has almost no THC, and is related to the marijuana plant can be used to make rope, paper, clothing, bricks, and as a biofuel. It's time to legalize it everywhere, create jobs, and help sick people.

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Lyn V.
Lyn V3 years ago

oops!!!! I did mean SURE

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Lyn V.
Lyn V3 years ago

I wish all those in need of this as medication to live reasonable lives all the very best--I am sue it can be less harmful than the unknown chemicals the authorities give us as medical prescriptions

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Roberta Morrison
Roberta Morrison3 years ago

Marijuana seems to hold a lot of promise, for treating several diseases; and the federal government really needs to change its status, to allow it to be freely studied. Hopefully, studies like this one, will help make that happen.

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Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

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