Behind the recent press reports are real stories of children whose epileptic seizures were dramatically reduced through the use of CBD and medical cannabis. But while evidence so far has been anecdotal, medical scientists this week are presenting the first scientific studies to back them up.
At a recent meeting of the American Epilepsy Society meeting in Philadelphia, researchers are unveiling the results of trials testing the safety and efficacy of cannabidiol also known as CBD. The findings are largely promising. In the largest study to-date, the number of seizures reduced by about half, on average, among children who completed the entire trial, the benefits of which for some continued after the study was completed.
“In the subsequent periods, which are very encouraging, 9 percent of all patients and 13 percent of those with Dravet Syndrome epilepsy were seizure-free,” Dr. Orrin Devinsky, the study’s lead author and a neurologist at the New York University Langone Medical Center, told NPR. “Many have never been seizure-free before.”
The data represent a significant step forward in legitimizing use of cannabis to treat epilepsy, a syndrome that in both children and adults causes debilitating seizures and can be especially difficult to treat. Patients sometimes exhaust traditional anti-seizure medications to no effect.
Despite the findings of CBD’s potential benefit in epilepsy treatment, the study results weren’t all good. In Devinsky’s three-month trial, 16 percent of participants withdrew due to adverse side effects or after deciding the treatment was ineffective. And in a yearlong study of 25 patients, one participant actually experienced more frequent seizures.
Participants in the studies didn’t smoke or vaporize cannabis flowers or concentrates. Rather, they consumed cannabidiol in the form of daily doses of purified extracts that had been derived from cannabis plants.
Parents across the country have turned to high-CBD products like Ensohara after hearing about their sometimes life-changing benefits after they were used successfully to treat epileptic seizures in a Colorado girl, Charlotte Figi. While Figi’s story has encouraged lawmakers in some states to loosen regulations on high-CBD strains, many desperate parents still obtain the drug illegally. And because of a lack of scientific evidence to justify their decision, they often face stigma — not to mention the risk of jail time — for giving their children cannabis.
Until recently, clinical trials involving cannabis have been almost nonexistent. As a federally controlled substance, the drug has been impossible to study except with government approval. But as legalization spreads, information about the efficacy of cannabis in treating various ailments will likely become ever more available.