It has long been known – or at least assumed – within the marijuana community that the drug can dramatically alter the course of severe childhood epilepsy. The idea is backed by countless anecdotes from families across the country.
And now it’s backed by hard science. A study released in March found a chemical in cannabis to be an effective treatment for severe seizure disorders in children.
The news comes from GW Pharmaceutical, a British drug company behind a medication called Epidiolex, which contains marijuana compounds. News of the finding doubled the price of GW stock in a day.
Drug reduced seizures by 39 percent
Scientists studying the drug for GW found it reduces otherwise untreatable seizures by an average of 39 percent. The large placebo-controlled study examined the effects of Epidiolex on 120 patients with epileptic conditions.
The patients were given a cannabis extract containing high amounts of cannabidiol (CBD), a critical component of marijuana. The test was only the first in a four-trial process, but investors jumped on the news, with experts predicting Epidiolex could have a market share of more than $1 billion.
Specifically, Epidiolex was tested on young patients with Dravet syndrome, a rare and devastating seizure disorder that has no cure and, currently, no effective FDA-approved treatment.
Safe treatments are desperately needed
Parents with epileptic children are increasingly turning to CBD cannabis concentrates as a way to alleviate suffering. Hundreds if not thousands of families have relocated to Colorado over the last few years, as that state makes it relatively easy for children to receive CBD treatment.
Efforts to treat Dravet syndrome with other medications have consistently failed, the researchers said. Patients in the study had tried an average of four current anti-epileptics with no effect.
“In this study, patients taking Epidiolex achieved a median reduction in monthly convulsive seizures of 39 percent compared with a reduction on placebo of 13 percent, which was highly statistically significant,” the researchers wrote. “The difference between Epidiolex and placebo emerged during the first month of treatment and was sustained during the entire treatment period.”
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely Epidiolex will hit the market anytime soon. Scientists and the FDA typically take years to approve new medications. But that hasn’t stopped parents from pushing to get their children CBD in the form of non-intoxicating cannabis.
CBD oil in high demand
This type of marijuana is easiest to find in Colorado, California, and other states with thriving marijuana industries. Elsewhere it’s rarely grown and rarely sold, despite the high demand.
The news on Epidiolex brings sick children one step closer to a CBD product that comes from the pharmaceutical industry rather than pot growers. Many parents are hesitant to use any drug on their children that has not been formally approved by the FDA, and insurance doesn’t cover marijuana treatments.
“These data demonstrate that Epidiolex delivers clinically important reductions in seizure frequency together with an acceptable safety and tolerability profile, providing the epilepsy community with the prospect of an appropriately standardized and tested pharmaceutical formulation of cannabidiol being made available by prescription in the future,” wrote Dr. Orrin Devinsky of the New York University Langone Medical Center.
Epidiolex could have a profound impact on the many children who need CBD treatment, experts said.
“Dravet syndrome is one of the most catastrophic types of epilepsy in children, and safe and effective treatments are desperately needed,” said Mary Anne Meskis, executive director of the Dravet Syndrome Foundation. “We are thrilled to learn of these positive results, which bring much needed hope to the children and families who have been living with these debilitating seizures.”