Cannabis-Based Medicine Demonstrates Benefit for Epilepsy Patients

Researchers are turning to cannabidiol to help cut seizures in half for those suffering from a severe form of epilepsy.

In a new study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s (ANN) Annual Meeting held April 22 to April 28, nearly 40 percent of people with Lennix-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) experienced a 50 percent reduction in drop seizures when taking a liquid form of cannabidiol, compared to the only 15 percent of patients taking a placebo.

Cannabidiol is a molecule from the cannabis plant that does not have the psychoactive properties.

In a drop seizure, a person collapses due to changes in muscle tone. While drop seizures are often very brief, they frequently lead to injury and emergency room visits.

Patients with LGS, which begins in childhood, experience multiple kinds of seizures including drop seizures and tonic-clonic seizures, which involve the loss of consciousness and full-body convulsions. These are both difficult to control and do not respond well to medications.

“Our study found that cannabidiol shows great promise in that it may reduce seizures that are otherwise difficult to control,” Dr. Anup Patel, an attending pediatric neurologist at Nationwide Children’s and assistant professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Neurology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, said in a statement.

The researchers followed 225 people who had an average of 85 drop seizures per month and had already tried an average of six epilepsy drugs that did not work. The patients in the study were taking an average of three epilepsy drugs during the study’s 14 weeks. The average age of the participants was 16.

Each participant in the study was given either 20 mg/kg or 10 mg/kg daily of cannabidiol daily, or a placebo as an add-on to their current medications over the duration of the study.

The patients in the higher dose group saw a 42 percent reduction in drop seizures overall and 40 percent saw their seizures reduced by at least 50 percent.

The participants taking the lower dose had a 37 percent reduction overall and 36 percent of the participants saw a reduction of at least 50 percent.

The placebo patients only had a 17 percent reduction in drop seizures and only 15 percent of the participants saw at least a 50 percent reduction.

There were mild-to-moderate side effects, including decreased appetite and sleepiness for 94 percent of those taking the higher dose, 84 percent of those taking the lower dose and 72 percent of those taking the placebo.

The cannabidiol patients were also up to 2.6 times more likely to say their overall condition improved than those receiving the placebo. Up to 66 percent of the cannabidiol patients reported improvement, compared to 44 percent of those receiving the placebo.

“Our results suggest that cannabidiol may be effective for those with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome in treating drop seizures,” said Patel. “This is important because this kind of epilepsy is incredibly difficult to treat.

“While there were more side effects for those taking cannabidiol, they were mostly well-tolerated,” he added. “I believe that it may become an important new treatment option for these patients.”

The researchers plan to submit a New Drug Application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration later this year.