For a long time now, medical marijuana has been used by countless families to treat seizures and epilepsy. In fact, it is often a treatment that offers hope to parents with children who suffer from the debilitating disorder who are responsible for inspiring those in office to take the leap to legalize medical marijuana. Now, 29 states have legalized medical marijuana and research is starting to surface that proves that there is indeed a significant connection between marijuana and epilepsy. Research such as this can go toward protecting the medical marijuana programs across the country that may be in jeopardy of suffering from federal government interference. The research also serves to provide a foundation for further exploration into the connection between marijuana and epilepsy
The Importance of Proper Cannabis Research
Marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug, placed in the highest risk category alongside heroin and LSD. Substances in this category are considered to have no medicinal value and must adhere to the strictest rules. Pleas were made to the DEA to reschedule or de-schedule marijuana but they refused, claiming that there is no officially authorized medical research proving that marijuana has any medicinal value. The reason for this is that medical research on marijuana was completely illegal. While the DEA did not change the classification of the plant, they did agree to approve some research. The more research that is done, the closer we get to understanding how marijuana can be used medicinally to treat a number of conditions.
How Marijuana and Epilepsy Relate
Marijuana and epilepsy have a strong connection and the latest research, dubbed the Phase 3 trial, was sponsored by GW Pharmaceuticals who have created and branded their own cannabidiol oil product, which they are calling Epidiolex. The research was published in May 2017 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The research serves to show the depth of that connection as it evaluates the effects of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound in marijuana that has been found to have an immense amount of medicinal benefits, without the high.
Studies Using CBD Oil for Dravet Syndrome
The trial to study marijuana and epilepsy consisted of taking 120 children, all between the ages of 2 and 18, with a rare and very severe genetic form of epilepsy called Dravet which kills up to 20 percent of children by the time they reach 20 years of age. As it stands, the condition has not been able to be cured using any kind of conventional prescription medication although there are medications designed to help reduce the severity. The children in the study group were, on average, taking up to 3 different kinds of medication to treat the disorder. A random group was chosen to take the CBD oil and a random number were given a placebo for 14 weeks during which they would continue to take their normal medication as researchers studied their responses.
A Dramatic Reduction in Seizures
Over the 14 week period, those taking the CBD oil, experienced a decrease in the number of seizures they had per month. They dropped from 12.4 per month to 5.9. Those taking the placebo only saw a drop of 14.9 to 14.1 per month. 43 percent of those taking the CBD oil saw the number of seizures per month halve while 27 percent of those taking the placebo experienced the same. 3 patients taking the CBD oil actually became totally free of seizures whereas none in the placebo group had this experience. The caretakers of those taking the CBD oil were nearly twice as likely to report that the patients overall state was improved.
Notable Side Effects
Patients also suffered from side effects during the study, although it is unclear whether the CBD oil alone or it’s interaction with other medication was the source of the issue. Side effects generally included fatigue, vomiting, loss of appetite, fever and diarrhea. 8 patients dropped out of the study due to the severity of their side effects. 75 percent of those taking the placebo also reported similar side effects. Much more research will need to be done in order to understand the underlying cause of the side effects and what can be done to avoid them in the future.
Conclusion of the Study
All in all, the study was very successful in proving the link between marijuana and epilepsy and manages to provide the ground work for more study and progress in the future. The final report concluded that: “Among patients with the Dravet syndrome, cannabidiol resulted in a greater reduction in convulsive-seizure frequency than placebo and was associated with higher rates of adverse events.”
The Future of Epidiolex
GW is currently in the process of asking that the FDA approve Epidiolex at some point this year. “We do see it as profoundly important that patients suffering from these difficult-to-treat conditions have access to an FDA-approved medication, which is manufactured to the standards that medicines are meant to be manufactured to, where the safety profile is well-characterized, and where the dosing is well understood,” GW CEO Justin Gover said in an interview.
American Support for Medical Marijuana
Long time prohibitionist Jeff Sessions recently became Attorney General for the Trump administration and has since been making alarming statements regarding marijuana. He recently asked Congress for permission to use federal government funding to go after medical marijuana across the country. As it stands, several bipartisan bills are being reviewed that all strive to, at minimum, protect medical marijuana laws in the individual states that have it. Some are also seeking to reschedule or outright legalize the plant. The vast majority of Americans support the legalization of medical marijuana and, with research such as this, more protection for families and children will no doubt be available.
Research, such as this, that evaluates the connection between marijuana and epilepsy brings us closer to finding ways of providing relief to people across the country suffering from debilitating disorders. There is much more research that will be necessary for understanding dosing, how each strain works and what compound combinations are the most successful for any given condition. Marijuana and epilepsy have had a long relationship giving way to the treatment of children who have been suffering with the condition and now the path is open for further exploration towards developing the best possible medicinal treatment.