Monday, April 13, 2015

Medical Marijuana Extract May Treat Epilepsy In Children

According to a new study, some children and adults with treatment-resistant epilepsy may benefit from a treatment regimen including cannabidiol, a compound in medical marijuana that does not contain psychoactive properties.

Around 5.1 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with epilepsy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About one-third of them have seizures that cannot be controlled by medication. Severe forms of epilepsy, such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, are marked by frequent, treatment-resistant seizures.

The study included 213 participants between 2 and 42-years-old (with a median age of 11) that took place at ten different U.S. centers which were granted FDA-approved open-label Expanded Access. The patients that qualified for the study had to have a treatment-resistant epileptic condition, such as Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes.

All of the patients were prescribed cannabidiol in a liquid daily dose that was gradually increased up to a potential maximum of 25mg/kg over 12 weeks. For the 137 patients who completed the study, the number of seizures decreased by an average of 54 percent throughout the 12-week period. Twelve people, or 6 percent of the participants, stopped taking the drug due to side effects.

Among twenty-three patients with Dravet syndrome who completed the study, convulsive seizures were reduced by 53 percent. The eleven patients with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome who finished the study reported a 55 percent reduction in the number of atonic or "drop" seizures, which cause muscles to go limp.

"Seizures that don’t respond to medication or surgical treatments can be devastating for sufferers and their families," says Dr. Orrin Devinsky, MD, a professor in the Departments of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry at NYU Langone. "Trials like ours are crucial to helping families know whether a compound like cannabidiol might provide safe and effective help."

The study was an open-label trial, meaning both patients and researchers knew they were receiving the cannabidiol drug. Future research will be in the form of randomized, placebo-controlled trials, which often eliminates the possibility of a placebo effect.

"Though the early results are promising, we still have a lot more to find out about cannabidiol, from the proper dosing regimens to which patients might benefit more than others," says Dr. Devinsky. "In this national climate of increased acceptance towards medical marijuana, it is crucial that scientifically-validated research, not policy, guides patient care."

Image Credit: United States Fish and Wildlife Service