Ilicit cannabis good for childhood epilepsy
Australian parents who turn to medicinal cannabis to treat their children with epilepsy overwhelmingly consider the extracts “effective”, a pioneering study has found.
However, contrary to expectations, the extracts generally contained low doses of cannabidiol (CBD) – commonly considered to be a key therapeutic element that has been successfully used in recent clinical trials to treat epilepsy.
The research by the University of Sydney not only sheds light on the composition of cannabis used in the community but also reveals the legal, bureaucratic and cost issues faced by families who rely on the products, as well as demonstrating the barriers to accessing medicinal cannabis.
The study found that the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and the closely related compound THCA, were present in most extracts, although the quantity was generally not enough to produce intoxicating effects.
Just over half the extracts were associated with a seizure reduction of 75-100%, which reinforces observations from animal studies and case reports on the anticonvulsant effects of THC and THCA.
The treatment was also associated with other beneficial effects such as improved cognition (35%) and language skills (24%).
Most children received relatively low doses of THC, with 41 out of 51 samples being administered at less than 0.5 mg/kg/day.
While no serious adverse effects were reported, just over a third of the extracts were associated with worsening of pre-existing problem behaviours (12%), possible increase in seizures (12%), drowsiness or lethargy (8%), gastrointestinal upset (6%) and possible intoxication (4%).
Nonetheless, just under half the families who used medicinal cannabis reduced their antiepileptic medication, according to the lead author and PhD candidate at the Brain and Mind Centre, Anastasia Suraev.
“Our findings highlight the huge unmet clinical need in the management of treatment-resistant epilepsy in childhood,” she says.
Read the full study here