Finally, some science.
Two new studies back the long-held belief that certain forms of marijuana are highly effective at treating severe seizure disorders. The results are tentative, as more research is needed, but they are very hopeful for children with epilepsy and their parents.
The first study was announced at the annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society in December. Authored by Orrin Devinsky, the director of the comprehensive epilepsy center the New York University Langone Medical Center, the report found that CBD, a chemical found in cannabis, can effectively reduce seizures in pediatric epilepsy patients.
Devinsky and his team spent three months examining 261 patients who suffer from severe seizure disorders. Most were children, and the average age was 11. They were tested at 16 sites across the United States, and each was given repeated drop-size doses of concentrated CBD by mouth. They continued taking their regular anti-seizure medications.
Resultant decline in convulsions
At the end of the testing period, scientists concluded the marijuana led to an average 45 percent decline in convulsions. The results weren’t perfect. Five percent of subjects suffered some degree of side effects, including diarrhea and spikes in liver enzymes. And 12 percent quit the drug before the study was completed because they didn’t feel it was helping.
But Devinsky called the study’s conclusions “promising” and said they offer “hope to the children and their families who have been living with debilitating seizures.”
The results of a second survey, also released at the meeting of the American Epilepsy Society, were less positive. But the study included a much smaller sample size, just 25, and that means the results may not be reliable.
That study found at least a 50 percent drop in seizures in 10 of the children who were examined. Another 12 dropped out and stopped taking the drug. And one child stopped using marijuana after reporting that his convulsions were happening more frequently.
Non-intoxicating component of marijuana
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical found in most cannabis. Unlike THC, it doesn’t get users high, but it is thought to be effective in treating epilepsy and other conditions. Families across the country have reported dramatic reductions in their children’s seizures, and some have gone so far as to move to Colorado, where CBD is easiest to obtain.
But that evidence is strictly anecdotal, and scientists tend to reject anecdotal evidence in favor of hard, empirical data. Many doctors and researchers have been skeptical that marijuana can effectively treat anything, let alone severe seizures.
Thankfully, however, the data is starting to prove them wrong. That could make all the difference for the many young patients who desperately need relief – any kind of relief – from their disorders.