Families of kids with severe epileptic disorders, many of who have pinned their last hopes on medical marijuana, may finally get the scientific scrutiny they need to change laws, win access to medication and reform public perceptions about MMJ in children.
The FDA has granted approval to a team of medical scientists to conduct clinical trials on medical pot as a treatment for seizure disorders in children.
The announcement, which came Dec. 6, could make it easier for suffering children to get the drug, and it could give new credibility to medical marijuana just as the tide turns in the war on drugs.
The FDA gave permission Dr. Orrin Devinsky, Dr. Roberta Cilio and GW Pharmaceuticals to use an experimental marijuana-derived drug called Epidiolex to treat 125 children with seizure conditions that have resisted other forms of treatment. Devinsky is director of the New York University and Saint Barnabas Comprehensive Epilepsy Center; Cilio is director of research in pediatric epilepsy at the University of California San Francisco Epilepsy Center.
Epidiolex isn’t marijuana, but rather a liquid extract containing 98 percent cannabidiol, or CBD, a chemical found in marijuana. Epidiolex is produced by GW, the same British company that makes Sativex, the only prescription drug on the market that contains chemicals derived directly from the cannabis plant (Sativex isn’t available in the United States).
Attempts to synthesize or even extract elements of cannabis for non-marijuana medical treatments have generally not worked well in the past.
But CBD is the chemical in pot that appears to effect epilepsy. A growing number of families with children who suffer from severe seizure disorders are turning to a strain of medical weed high in CBD but very low in THC, the chemical that gets pot smokers high.
If Epidiolex delivers the same CBD benefits families report from that strain of marijuana, it could provide an accurate study of the chemical as a treatment.
“I think this is a big step forward in the science of Cannabidiods,” Devinsky said, referring to all the active ingredients in pot. “We will finally get some data on epilepsy, and this should provide the basis to plan a randomized double-blind study.”
The effect of CBD on childhood epileptic conditions became a national news story after CNN aired the account of Charlotte Figi, a Colorado girl whose 300 daily seizures were eradicated with daily doses of extracts from the high-CBD strain, which has been named in her honor: “Charlotte’s Web.”
As word of her recovery spread, and similar stories became public, a small but growing collective of families relocated to Colorado from across the country so their children could legally obtain Charlotte’s Web.