- Study gave children with epilepsy a medicinal liquid form of marijuana
- Drug reduced number of seizures by an average of 53% across the group
- Children had severe types of epilepsy that hadn’t responded to treatment
- However, 10% of children had to stop taking drug due to its side effects
Cannabis could offer hope for children with severe epilepsy, a new study suggests.
A medicinal liquid form of marijuana shows promise as a treatment for children with a severe form of the condition, researchers found.
They discovered that treating epilepsy with the cannabis-derived drug led to an average 53 per cent reduction in seizures.
However, 10 per cent of children in the study had to stop taking the drug due to side effects including tiredness, diarrhoea and decreased appetite.
The study involved 213 people, ranging from toddlers to adults, who had severe epilepsy that did not respond to other treatments.
They had Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome – epilepsy types that can lead to intellectual disability and lifelong seizures – as well as 10 other types of severe epilepsy.
The participants were given the drug cannabidiol, a component of marijuana that does not include the psychoactive part of the plant that creates a ‘high.’
The drug is a liquid taken daily by mouth.
The participants all knew they were receiving the drug in the study, which was designed to determine whether it was safe and tolerated well.
Researchers also measured the number of seizures participants had while taking the drug.
For the 137 people who completed the 12-week study, the number of seizures decreased by an average of 54 per cent from the beginning of the study to the end.
WHAT IS DRAVET SYNDROME?
The trial focussed on Dravet syndrome, a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy that begins in infancy.
Children with Dravets tend to have normal development as babies but development starts to plateau when they are in their second year of life.
Individuals with Dravet syndrome face a higher incidence of sudden unexplained death in epilepsy patients (SUDEP).
They often also experience other conditions including developmental delays, sleeping difficulties, chronic infections and difficulty feeding.
There is currently no cure and treatment options are limited – they mainly involve using anti-epilepsy drugs to treat the seizures.
Little is known about the long term prognosis of people with Dravet syndrome.
Among the 23 people with Dravet syndrome who finished the study, the number of convulsive seizures had gone down by 53 per cent by the end of week 12.
For the 11 people with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome who finished the study, there was a 55 per cent reduction in the number of atonic seizures, which cause a sudden loss of muscle tone.
Twelve people (six per cent) stopped taking the drug due to side-effects which occurred in more than 10 per cent of the participants.
These included drowsiness, diarrhoea, tiredness and decreased appetite.
Study author Dr Orrin Devinsky, of New York University Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Centre, said larger trials are now needed to measure the effectiveness of the drug.
He added: ‘So far there have been few formal studies on this marijuana extract.
‘These results are of great interest, especially for the children and their parents who have been searching for an answer for these debilitating seizures.’
The findings are due to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in Washington DC.
In the UK, a similar trial is ongoing in which a cannabinoid-based drug is being trialled on children with epilepsy.
In December 2014, it began running in hospitals in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and London.
The news comes after previous studies have found cannabinoids are also effective in treating depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and could even shrink aggressive cancer tumours.