Many believe cannabis has ingredients that can help with a number of medical conditions. One of the most talked about is its ability to help with seizures. And with the tremendous amount of attention cannabis has been getting due to legalization debates, more people want to understand what benefits it may hold.
Cannabidiol, one of the main ingredients in cannabis, has become the focus for many scientists and patients alike. Research shows that it doesn’t have the same properties that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) does. It doesn’t produce the “high” that’s associated with THC, it doesn’t impair cognitive function like THC does and it doesn’t have the high risk of addiction that THC does. But there’s still much that’s unknown about it.
Scientists and researchers hope to change that. Cannabidiol, or CBD, has been shown to have anticonvulsant and antipsychotic properties. And there’s apparently hope that it can be used to treat seizures, especially in patients who don’t respond to or have become immune to other more traditional treatments.
The most recent cause for hope is a study led by neurologist Orrin Devinsky and his team that was published in The Lancet Neurology. With a total of 214 participants, this open label study is the largest study to date for researching the use of cannabis-based treatment for epilepsy. Devinsky, from the New York University Langone Medical Center, monitored the use of Epidiolex (a treatment that’s made up of 99 percent CBD) over the course of 12 weeks. Patients did not replace their regular treatment with it. They simply took this extract in addition to their regular treatment.
Participants from the ages of 1 to 30 orally took 2-5 mg/kg daily, which was increased to a max dose of 25 mg/kg or 50 mg/kg or up until intolerance was reached. Researchers established a baseline in the beginning, then held lab screenings at the four, eight and 12 week marks. They also reviewed journals that were kept to record seizure activities for each patient.
Overall, patients experienced over 35 percent less monthly motor seizures and Epidiolex was tolerated well for the most part. That’s comparable to drugs currently used for seizure patients. Two percent of the participants even stopped having seizures altogether. But while it was tolerated well by most, that doesn’t mean there weren’t any side effects.
There were plenty of side effects, but not severe enough in most cases to drop out of the study. Some of the side effects reported include diarrhea, sleepiness and fatigue. They were only severe enough in three percent of the participants to cause them to stop using it. Pediatric and neurology professor Kevin Chapman believes the study offers some good data showing the drug Epidiolex is pretty safe. Though side effects were presented, they were mostly mild and it’s hard to say whether the small percent of severe effects may have occurred anyways.
Was it Just a Placebo Effect?
Without a solid control group and due to the fact that this study was open-label, some worry that a placebo effect could have been present. That’s apparently common with cannabis-based drugs. Researchers from the University of Colorado reported earlier in 2015 that nearly 50 percent of patients’ families who moved to Colorado to receive cannabis-based treatment said their condition improved. But less than 25 percent of patients reported such improvement if they already lived in Colorado.
The evidence may be rolling in to support the belief that CBD can be effective for epilepsy, but they still aren’t entirely sure how or why. Devinsky says that pretty much all we know is that it’s nothing like other seizure drugs and that just might be a good thing. But he also warns that more research and controlled studies are needed before it can be clearly recommended as a treatment. He’s currently leading a randomized, controlled trial.