There are many treatments for seizures in children, but not all children respond to one or more of them. Cannabis oil is a new and sometimes controversial treatment that is currently gaining ground as a natural and non-invasive way to keep seizures under control.
Cannabis oil that contains very low amounts of THC or none at all is preferred for use as medicine. This oil can be made from both marijuana and hemp plants. Hemp strains often contain CBD without THC.
How Does Cannabis Oil Benefit?
Cannabis is the proper name for marijuana, a cousin of the hemp plant and one that has long been classified as an illegal substance. However, with many states now opting to legalize cannabis for medical use, research is being conducted on how it can be used to treat seizures in children with epilepsy.
Far from being the stereotypical drug that makes a person want to eat snacks and watch television all day, cannabis contains chemicals that are able to work with the body to ease seizures. The two major components of cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC is the component of cannabis that produces the characteristic euphoric state often referred to as a “high.” Cannabidiol does not produce psychoactive effects, but has been shown to promote positive effects in different parts of the body. Cannabidiol is the component in cannabis that is hypothesized to ease seizures in children.
Epilepsy is a chronic disease characterized by recurrent unprovoked seizures. Up to 30% of children with epilepsy will be refractory to standard anticonvulsant therapy, and those with epileptic encephalopathy can be particularly challenging to treat. The endocannabinoid system can modulate the physiologic processes underlying epileptogenesis. The anticonvulsant properties of several cannabinoids, namely Δ-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol (CBD), have been demonstrated in both in vitro and in vivo studies. Cannabis-based therapies have been used for millennia to treat a variety of diseases including epilepsy. Several studies have shown that CBD, both in isolation as a pharmaceutical-grade preparation or as part of a CBD-enriched cannabis herbal extract, is beneficial in decreasing seizure frequency in children with treatment-resistant epilepsy. Overall, cannabis herbal extracts appear to provide greater efficacy in decreasing seizure frequency, but the studies assessing cannabis herbal extract are either retrospective or small-scale observational studies. The two large randomized controlled studies assessing the efficacy of pharmaceutical-grade CBD in children with Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes showed similar efficacy to other anticonvulsants. Lack of data regarding appropriate dosing and pediatric pharmacokinetics continues to make authorization of cannabis-based therapies to children with treatment-resistant epilepsy challenging.
Only patients in the high-dose group stopped taking the drug due to side effects, a rate of 7%.
The research found that the drug reduced seizures by nearly half in children with Dravet syndrome, a rare and severe form of the neurological disorder.
The FDA approved Epidiolex last fall for the treatment of Dravet syndrome and another rare but severe form of childhood epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. The new study was funded by GW Research Ltd., developer of Epidiolex.
Both doses were nearly equivalent in effectiveness, he said, and “the new results hint that the lower dose CBD is better-tolerated.”
CBD products are derived from marijuana, but do not include THC, the active agent in pot that causes a “high.”
“It’s exciting to be able to offer another alternative for children with this debilitating form of epilepsy and their families,” Miller said. He and his colleagues will present their findings next week at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting, in Philadelphia.
This study was led by Dr. Shimrit Uliel-Sibony, of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center’s Dana-Dwek Children’s Hospital, and presented at the American Epilepsy Society’s annual meeting in December.