A small study of children with treatment-resistant epilepsy has found that whole-plant cannabis therapies reduced seizures by 86 percent, according to research published recently by the journal BMJ Paediatrics Open.
To conduct the study, researchers collected retrospective clinical data from caretakers and clinicians of 10 children with intractable, or drug-resistant, epilepsy. All 10 patients recruited for the study had not responded to CBD products.
When the patients were given a whole-plant cannabis oil containing THC, CBD and other cannabinoids as well as compounds including terpenes and flavonoids, the frequency of their seizures decreased by nearly 90 percent.
“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. On average, the children in the study received about 5mg of THC per day, although they did not get high from the medication. Parents reported results to researchers by phone or via video conference calls. Few adverse effects, including excessive tiredness before exact dosing was determined, were reported to researchers.
“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.
The research also revealed that using the cannabis oil resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of other medications taken by the patients in the study. At the onset of the research, patients were taking multiple medications daily, a figure which declined significantly after treatment with cannabis oil was begun.
“Participants reduced use of antiepileptic drugs from an average of seven to one following treatment with medical cannabis,” the researchers wrote.
Researchers Support Improved 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.
The authors of the study acknowledged that there are risks treating young people with psychoactive compounds, but noted that commonly used medications for epilepsy also have serious side effects. Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and a board member of the advocacy group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation who was not involved in the study, noted that worries about how cannabis therapies may affect children should be considered in the context of the risks associated with other commonly used 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.
The researchers noted that the individual dosage and blend of cannabis oil was tailored to each patient by their doctors and warned against using the medication without proper supervision.
“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.”
The authors of the research cited several limitations of the study, including using data that was retrospective and relied on caregiver recall, although parents often kept diaries for recording seizures as documentation of their experiences as they occurred. They also noted that the study was not randomized and did not include a placebo group with which to compare results.
Researchers also cited the small sample size of the study as a limitation, but noted that the results were consistent with other research. The authors called for further study into the benefits of whole-plant cannabis products for epilepsy patients who experience 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.