Scientists gave children with a severe form of epilepsy a non-psychoactive form of medical cannabis and found the number of seizures dropped. What’s more, some of the children don’t have any seizures at all now. This is the first time scientists document a form of medical cannabis treating severe epilepsy despite the numerous anecdotal evidence presented on the TV or the internet.
43% of epileptic children had a 50% reduction in seizure frequency with cannabidiol (CBD)
For their study, the team of researchers enlisted 120 children and young adults across the US and Europe who are suffering from Dravet syndrome. This is a genetic dysfunction of the brain that begins in the first year of life with frequent and/or prolonged seizures. Current treatment options are limited, and the constant care required for someone suffering from Dravet syndrome can severely impact the patient’s and the family’s quality of life. The mortality rate is also very high, up to 20%. It’s an incredibly devasting disease with no cure in sight.
During the course of the randomised, double-blind and placebo-controlled trial, the researchers measured seizure frequency over a 14-week treatment period with cannabidiol or CBD, as it’s also known. Cannabidiol is one of at least 113 active cannabinoids identified in cannabis. CBD is the second most abundant compound in hemp, typically representing up to 40% of its extracts. Because CBD is an extract, it doesn’t contain THC which is the intoxicating and (in most parts of the world) illegal substance that is responsible for causing marijuana users to get “high”. But both CBD and THC interact with cells within our bodies by activating the cannabinoid receptors which transmit signals within our bodies, causing different physiological effects.
At the end of the trial, the frequency of convulsive seizures per month decreased considerably from 12.4 to 5.9 for the children who were given CBD compared to an insignificant 14.8 to 14.1 among the placebo control group. Overall 43 percent of children with the syndrome had a 50 percent reduction in seizure frequency with cannabidiol. Even more remarkably, 5 percent of the participants report seizures had stopped altogether.
“This is a major scientific breakthrough”, said Professor Ingrid Scheffer from the University of Melbourne in a statement.
“If you can render any child or adult seizure free, that’s huge. It could contribute to stopping any further deterioration, or help development in a positive sense.”
For 1 in 20 children, the seizures stopped altogether
The participants also reported feeling better overall. When the children’s caregivers were asked to fill in the Global Impression of Change questionnaire — a scale which rates change in a patient — the patient’s overall condition improved by at least one category in 62 percent of the cannabidiol group, compared with only 34 percent of the placebo group.
If you use social media and you’re a Millennial, chances have it you’ve already seen various videos and memes of unidentified people who had their epilepsy seizures reduced by smoking cannabis or ingesting CBD oil. Some of these videos may be true nevertheless this is the first time science has proven this may be true.
“It’s the first scientific evidence that cannabidiol works. There have been anecdotal reports in the past, and people with firm beliefs that it works in epilepsy, but this is the first time it’s been proven,” Scheffer said.
While the results are very promising, the researchers caution that CBD isn’t a cure for this dreadful disease. Even so, for the estimated 1 percent of the population that has epilepsy or 65 million people globally, CBD could drastically change their lives for the better. Dravet syndrome is a rare condition though affecting around 1 in 16,000 people, so the next challenge will be investing whether or not the finding translate to other forms of epilepsy.
“But it does give cause to be optimistic about further research for its use. It also raises a lot of questions, not just in terms of the treatment of epilepsy, but where else it could be applied medicinally,” Professor Scheffer said.
“Cannabidiol is likely to be an important addition to our group of anti-epileptic tools,” he concluded.
The findings appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.