Child epilepsy patients and their parents are enjoying a new lease of life thanks to the development of cannabis medication – a variety of non-psychoactive and THC-containing oils are benefitting patients with rare disorders to an extent that current treatments have been unable to.
Now, a systematic review into the effect of medical cannabis on childhood epilepsy has produced results overwhelmingly in favor of the plant. A number of previously untreatable and life-threatening conditions are now being successfully combatted.
The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre in Sydney conducted the extensive review, with the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry publishing the research. The team, led by Emily Stockings, considered 30 observational studies and six randomized controlled trials in the overall review.
The paper showed that non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) was especially useful in treating various types of childhood epilepsy. CBD is a cannabinoid but has no hallucinogenic side effects unlike the better-known THC.
With users unable to get high from using CBD, these forms of cannabis treatment are more viable for pediatric patients than THC options. A recommendation of 20mg CBD daily for every 20kg of body weight was given by the review, which showed that the compound reduced epileptic seizures among participants by at least 50 percent.
Around three-quarters of epileptic conditions can be effectively treated through mainstream medicines such as valproate. However, for patients who cannot find relief with existing treatments, options are limited. Thankfully, medical cannabis is helping many of those who traditional medicine has left out.
In the past decade, several stories of child patients seeking medical cannabis treatment have hit the headlines, many of them for epilepsy – CNN even produced a documentary on the subject. In 2018, the United Kingdom, which has not enacted any medical cannabis legislation, gave a six-year-old child epilepsy patient special permission to be treated with medical marijuana.
While there are many success stories with cannabis products in the United States, some families have been taken to court for using medical marijuana. One such example is Alexis Bortell, 12. The federal prohibition of cannabis has stopped Bortell from travelling with her cannabis meds, which stop seizures. The government has taken umbrage with this, hence the lawsuit.
Stockings argues that the research has is piling up to show that medical cannabis can be safely used to treat another of rare disorders. More studies must be carried out to confirm these effects and provide clarity for the most unusual of cases, but the findings are encouraging. Frustratingly, while the Sydney research was relatively comprehensive, only one in six of the studies were of clinical trials (involving placebo treatments), the rest was merely observational research. Observational research has a reputation for being less reliable than clinical research.
For a study to carry true weight, the tests must be double-blinded, placebo-controlled and randomized. In such tests, participants are unaware of whether they’ve been given the actual treatment or a placebo, and even the researchers don’t know who is being administered with what, eliminating the potential for bias.
With the Controlled Substances Act still classing cannabis as a Schedule I drug with no medicinal value, it is difficult for the required research to be conducted. Researchers have to wade through the bureaucracy stifling studies on cannabis. Finding patients willing to be studied on and accessing federal funds are two of the trickiest obstacles for researchers to overcome.
However, if Stockings’ review shows anything, it’s that the current studies available on medical cannabis indicate that the herb can have extraordinary effects for those who don’t have sufficient treatments for their conditions. This is particularly the case for children with epilepsy.