News

Study: Pot extract helps kids with epilepsy

A medicine made from marijuana, without the stuff that gives a high, cut seizures in kids with a severe form of epilepsy in a study that strengthens the case for more research into pot’s possible health benefits.

“This is the first solid, rigorously obtained scientific data” that a marijuana compound is safe and effective for this problem, said one study leader, Dr. Orrin Devinsky of NYU Langone Medical Center.

The study was published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

For years, desperate patients and parents have argued for more research and wider access to marijuana, with only anecdotal stories and small, flawed studies on their side. The new study is the first large, rigorous test — one group got the drug, another got a dummy version and neither patients, parents nor doctors knew who took what until the study ended.

It tested a liquid form of cannabidiol, one of marijuana’s more than 100 ingredients, called Epidiolex, (eh’-pih-DYE’-uh-lehx). It doesn’t contain THC, the hallucinogenic ingredient, and is not sold anywhere yet, although its maker, GW Pharmaceuticals of London, is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

Patients in the study have Dravet (drah-VAY) syndrome, a type of epilepsy usually caused by a faulty gene. It starts in infancy and causes frequent seizures, some so long-lasting they require emergency care and can be fatal.

Participants in the study included 120 children and teens, ages 2 to 18, in the U.S. and Europe.

Serious seizures with convulsions dropped from around 12 a month to about six for those on the drug and did not change in the others. Three patients on the drug became seizure-free during the study.

It’s no panacea, though. Diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, sleep problems and other issues were more frequent in the drug group. Twelve patients quit the study — nine on the drug and three in the placebo group.

The drug is being tested in a second large study in kids with Dravet syndrome, and in studies of some other types of epilepsy.

Hendershot thinks her daughter got the dummy medicine because they saw no change in her seizures until the study ended and all participants were allowed to try the drug.

By the second day they saw a difference, and “she went seizure-free for two months. It was pretty remarkable,” Hendershot said.

The fact the drug came from marijuana “did not matter to me at all,” she said. “If it helps, we’re happy. I think people hear ‘cannabis’ or that it comes from marijuana and immediately there’s a stigma attached to it.”

For those who swear marijuana helped them, “anecdote has been confirmed by data,” Dr. Samuel Berkovic writes in a commentary in the medical journal. He is an epilepsy researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia, where medical marijuana was legalized last year, and has worked with Devinsky in the past.

The drug is being tested in a second large study in kids with Dravet syndrome, and in studies of some other types of epilepsy.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.