marijuana and epilepsy

Marijuana For Epilepsy

Recently, there has been a lot of news about the use of a portion of the marijuana plant as a treatment for epilepsy. Some patients and their families have reported that this oil, referred to as “Charlotte’s Web,” has been beneficial for children with hard-to-control epilepsy. But that’s not the end of the story.

The Devil is in the Details
Most of the children that have been featured in the news have a rare type of genetic epilepsy called Dravet syndrome. Based on these reports, it appears that this marijuana-based oil has helped these few children. However, there has been no mention of any child that has not gained benefit — and with any form of treatment; some people will not respond as well as others.  Our concern is that this and similar products have not been studied adequately to determine which children would benefit most and what dose is actually safe for children. There may be a lot of risks associated with using these types of treatments, since there is so much unknown. A medication made from a portion of the marijuana plant may be a good treatment for children with epilepsy in the future, but we need more research about this and similar products.

Furthermore, marijuana products are not legal to give or prescribe to children in the state of Ohio. At this time, the neurology providers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital cannot legally endorse or assist with the use of any marijuana-derived product.

Marijuana-Based Epilepsy Drugs
For years, those of us in the epilepsy field have kept an eye on similar compounds and chemicals found in the marijuana plant, hoping to find a potential therapy. It is possible that a certain chemical, called cannabidiol (CBD) may be helpful in reducing seizures for those who meet certain criteria. However, it appears that other portions of the marijuana plant may either not be helpful or may even trigger seizures.
But here’s another problem: Even if companies market that their product or oil has only CBD, these products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means there is no way to be certain of the exact contents of the product being sold.

Currently, a company in London, England is working on the development of a medication that is 98% CBD, which would be the purest form available. They plan on pursuing clinical trials and rigorous scientific research to determine if the medication is safe and effective in treating children with epilepsy.

Until there is an FDA-approved form of CBD, the oil should not be used to treat childhood epilepsy informally. Although FDA-approved medications and treatments do not always work for everyone, it is important to know that these medications go through extensive testing to prove that they work and are safe to take to treat seizures.

Unfortunately, there is no “magic bullet” for treating epilepsy. While we recognize that difficult-to-control seizures are stressful, it is very important to think of all these issues before thinking about giving a marijuana product to your child. We encourage you to work together with your child’s neurology provider to make sure your child is being treated as safely and effectively as possible.

Anup D. Patel, MD
Anup Patel, MD, works as an attending physician in the Pediatric Epilepsy Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital. He has a focus on medical management of complicated epilepsy. He is the father of a five year old boy and six month old daughter. In his free time, he loves listening to music and watching sports. Follow Dr. Patel on Twitter @PedsEpilepsyDoc where he shares helpful epilepsy information and helps spread awareness!
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4 thoughts on “Marijuana For Epilepsy

  1. Gene Berry on said:

    Thank you for at least blogging about this issue. While I respect that you have a tremendous amount more knowledge in this area than I do, my hope for my daughter with epilepsy is that medical marijuana becomes legal in the State of Ohio and we have the opportunity to try medical marijuana…..because drugs produced in labs have NOT WORKED on my daughter since September, 2000. We have tried the vast majority of anti-epileptic drugs, both new & old since 2000, with little help!

  2. Laura Cossolotto on said:

    I appreciate your candid comments and opinions regarding the use of marijuana products in children with epilepsy. I completely agree that parents should work with their providers to ensure their child is being treated as safely and effectively as possible. That being said, in the 17 years since we began battling constant seizures my daughter has experienced toxicity and adverse effects that have led to multiple hospitalizations as a result of the countless anti seizure medications she has tried. I have not yet found any research on the efficacy or safety of the 5 anticonvulsants she is currently on. Admittedly, each of these drugs have been studied independantly but how many of them have been studied in children? I have absolutely no knowledge, from a scientific perspective, what the effects of these combinations and dosages are. Many of the FDA approved drugs that we have tried have made her seizures worse. As a result we discontinued use. According to Dr. Sanja Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Coorespondent, “someone dies of a prescription drug overdose every 19 minutes – that doesn’t happen with marijuana”. So if I choose to try Charlotte’s Web or something similar, the worst thing that will happen is it won’t work to control seizures or perhaps the seizures would get worse and we would have to disconue use as we have done so many times in the past. There is a plethora of research out there on cannabinoids and their medicinal use. I as a parent strive to make informed decisions for my daughter and we are out of options.

    1. Hi Vicki-Dr. Patel says ” We are hoping to be a study site for GW Pharmaceuticals for Epidiolex once or if they start performing clinical trials. Currently, they are not offering any other site product for testing at this time.”

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