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Whole-Plant Cannabis Extract Reduces Epileptic Seizures By 86% in Small Study

According to recent research by The Journal, a small study on children suffering from treatment-resistant epilepsy found that whole-plant cannabis treatments reduced seizures by 86%. BMJ Paediatrics Open.

The study was conducted by researchers who collected retrospective clinical data from clinicians and caretakers of 10 children suffering from intractable or drug-resistant epilepsy. CBD products were not used by any of the 10 participants in this study.

Patients were treated with whole-plant cannabis oil that contained CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids. They also received compounds such as terpenes or flavonoids which reduced their frequency by as much as 90%.

“Seizure frequency across all 10 participants reduced by 86 percent with no significant adverse events,” the authors of the study wrote. 

The dosage of cannabis oil was determined by each patient’s physician. Children in the study were given an average of 5mg daily THC, but they never felt high. Researchers received results from parents via phone calls or videoconference calls. Researchers did not report any adverse effects other than excessive tiredness after the exact dose was calculated.

“All parents reported that the whole-plant products were well-tolerated and the children showed improvements in their mood, behavior, eating anding as well as substantial improvements in their cognitive [mental] abilities,” said study author Rayyan Zafar, a fellow at the Centre for Psychedelic Research and Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London.

Research also showed that cannabis oil led to a significant reduction in other medication taken by patients. Patients were using multiple drugs daily at the beginning of this research. This number dropped significantly when cannabis oil treatment was initiated.

“Participants reduced use of antiepileptic drugs from an average of seven to one following treatment with medical cannabis,” the researchers wrote.

Researchers Support Better Access to Cannabis Therapies

Although U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid (now the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care) announced in 2018 that cannabis medicines would be made available to patients “with an exceptional clinical need,” so far few patients have received a prescription from the National Health Service. The authors of the study “noted significant financial costs of £874 per month to obtain these medicines through private prescriptions” and believe that the data collected on whole-plant cannabis therapies provide evidence to introduce such medications into the NHS under current prescribing guidelines.

“Such a move would be hugely beneficial to the families, who in addition to having the psychological distress of looking after their chronically ill children, have also to cover the crippling financial burden of their medication,” the authors concluded.

Parents cautioned against unsupervised cannabis treatment for seizures

Dr. Kevin Chapman, a neurologist at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital and spokesperson for the American Epilepsy Society, said that more research is needed and warned parents not to try to medicate their children with cannabis from a dispensary, saying “it’s still buyer beware.”

“There isn’t enough evidence to support using these products at this time especially instead of prescribed epilepsy treatments,” Chapman said.

While there may be risks when treating epilepsy patients under the age of 18, researchers also noted that common medications used for this condition can have dangerous side effects. Doctor Peter Grinspoon is a Boston-based primary care physician and board member of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation. He said that concerns about cannabis treatments for children must be considered alongside the other risks of commonly prescribed medications.

“I’d imagine that any concerns about the use of THC in a pediatric population would be at least in part alleviated by the drop of anti-epileptic drugs, many of which have side effects,” Grinspoon told UPI.

“It is not difficult to understand why there is such a determined parents’ movement in support of access to cannabinoids for pediatric epilepsy,” he added.

Researchers noted that each patient received a customized dose and mix of cannabis oil from their doctor. They also warned against the misuse of the drug.

“Medical oversight is important,” Zafar said. “We encourage parents interested in using these medicines for these children to approach clinics and discuss this option with their physician.”

Researchers cited several weaknesses in the study. They used retrospective data and relied upon caregiver recall. However, parents kept journals to record seizures so that they could be documented. The authors also pointed out that the results of this study were not randomized and didn’t include a placebo. 

The study’s small sample size was also noted by researchers as a limitation. However, the findings were in line with previous research. Researchers called for more research into whole-plant cannabis products’ benefits for patients with epilepsy who have seizures.

A report on the research, “Medical cannabis for severe treatment resistant epilepsy in children: a case-series of 10 patients,” was published on December 14 by BMJ Paediatrics Open.