Providing children with epilepsy accessibility to medical cannabis, particularly high CBD varieties, has often been a rallying cry to make medical cannabis legal in many states. Children with epilepsy have anecdotally responded very well to CBD treatment, which even spawned the creation of the famous cannabis strain Charlotte’s Web. Charlotte’s Web was created for a young Colorado girl named Charlotte who found a great reduction in seizures after using CBD products. The young girl and her family were featured on Sanjay Gupta’s Weed, a CNN mini series on medical marijuana, which exposed many Americans, for the first time, to the modern day science behind medicinal cannabis.
In a recent case, Mark Zartler, a father from Texas admitted to illegally buying cannabis in order to provide his daughter with relief from her severe epilepsy. His admission was part of a plea for the legalization of medical cannabis in Texas, so his daughter and other children could have reliable access to treatment in the form of medical cannabis. Zartler, who’s daughter has suffered from severe epilepsy almost her whole life, has found that no treatment has work as effectively as cannabis has to help his daughter. A new study out of the New England Journal of Medicine has provided more evidence, in the form of a formal clinical trial, for how much cannabis can help children with epilepsy.
The new study found that children who took a liquid form of CBD saw an average of a 39% decrease in seizures. The study was a double blind randomized placebo controlled trial that tested the efficacy of Epidolex, a liquid CBD medication created by the British company GW Pharmaceuticals. The patients featured in the study all have Dravets Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy that is often associated with developmental issues. Many children with Dravets Syndrome do not find relief through typical anti-seizure medications. The study included 120 participants from ages two to eighteen who lived in the United States and Europe. The patients who participated in the study experienced between 4 and 1,717 seizures in a month before receiving treatment.
The patients either received a placebo or a dose of Epidolex, in association with their normal anti-seizure medications. Patients who received Epidolex saw an average of a 39% decrease in their seizures over the course of the study, compared to the placebo group who saw no change. Most of the active medication group did see some mild side effects, like fatigue, stomach discomfort and sleep problems. CBD, in most of the participants, had similar effects to other anti-seizure medications.
The study is based in a long record of using cannabis to aid people with epilepsy. There are even a few historical mentions of cannabis being used to help treat epilepsy. There is evidence that cannabis was used in Sumeria in 1000 BC to treat epilepsy and it was also used in the Victorian era as a treatment for epilepsy in Europe. Dr. Orrin Devinsky, lead author of the study and director of NYU Langone's Comprehensive Epilepsy Center said about the study, "After 3,800 years of cannabis use for epilepsy ... we finally have solid evidence..CBD is an effective drug for this type of rare epilepsy but was not a panacea (or cure-all) for these children.” This study provides a true clinical trial that points to the benefits of cannabis for children with epilepsy, though the evidence is still relatively preliminary.
The medication used in the trial, Epidolex, was created by GW Pharmaceuticals, a British company on the cutting edge of cannabinoid therapies. This is the same company that created Sativex, a leading drug for multiple sclerosis that has been approved for use in 29 countries. The company conducts large amounts of cannabis research and focuses on isolating cannabinoids, rather than whole plant cannabis treatment. Their products, however, are made to be prescribed in a traditional setting, rather than distributed in a dispensary.
Though the company has branch of operations within the United States, their products are not currently available within the country. Dr. Brenda Porter, an associate professor of neurology at the Stanford School of Medicine, who was not a researcher in the study, has said about the legality of the treatment option, "Hopefully, the FDA will see this as a sign it should be moved off of Schedule I. If it stays on Schedule I, we will have trouble getting it to our patients when it does become available.” The potential for prescription cannabis to be available in a regular pharmacy could make it more appealing to the FDA as an option for legalization and in turn, the continued normalization of cannabis related treatments.
Many families have found themselves moving to states with legal cannabis to provide their children with relief. The Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado supports access of cannabis for children with epilepsy, making it a location that many people look to bring their children to find relief. A changing in the classification of cannabis on a federal level, however, could make products like Epidolex available to people across the United States and would not limit children from relief based on their physical location.