One of those people is 12-year-old Billy Caldwell. Billy was in the news recently after the cannabis oil prescribed for him was confiscated at Heathrow airport by the authorities. Billy’s mother, Charlotte, was attempting to bring the cannabis oil into the UK from Canada, where cannabis oil is legal.
In a similar case, six-year-old Alfie Dingle, who suffers from severe epilepsy, had been successful treated with cannabis oil in the Netherlands. Alfie’s mother, Hannah Deacon, has been campaigning to allow her son to be provided with cannabis oil in the UK.
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So what do we know about cannabis oil and its effects on epilepsy seizures?
I have been approached by Dragonfly Biosciences who produce and market cannabidiol (CBD) to sit on their Advisory Panel. I do not receive funding from Dragonfly Biosciences, but would be paid a consultancy fee if I join the Advisory Boorad. My scientific publication support the use of non-THC cannabidinoids, as reflected in this article. I have previously received funding from GW Pharmaceuticals, but I am currently not in receipt of such funding.
Cannabis is the proper name for marijuana, a cousin of the hemp plant and one that has long been classified as an illegal substance. However, with many states now opting to legalize cannabis for medical use, research is being conducted on how it can be used to treat seizures in children with epilepsy.
Far from being the stereotypical drug that makes a person want to eat snacks and watch television all day, cannabis contains chemicals that are able to work with the body to ease seizures. The two major components of cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
How Does Cannabis Oil Benefit?
There are many treatments for seizures in children, but not all children respond to one or more of them. Cannabis oil is a new and sometimes controversial treatment that is currently gaining ground as a natural and non-invasive way to keep seizures under control.
Cannabis oil that contains very low amounts of THC or none at all is preferred for use as medicine. This oil can be made from both marijuana and hemp plants. Hemp strains often contain CBD without THC.
THC is the component of cannabis that produces the characteristic euphoric state often referred to as a “high.” Cannabidiol does not produce psychoactive effects, but has been shown to promote positive effects in different parts of the body. Cannabidiol is the component in cannabis that is hypothesized to ease seizures in children.
For longer-term use, there are some causes for concern—namely that studies suggest extended or chronic cannabis consumption can cause lasting harm to the developing brain; it’s at least possible that those harms might be as pronounced for CBD as they are for traditional forms of the drug.
The good news is that higher-quality randomized clinical trials that examine the effectiveness of CBD oil for epilepsy are underway (some have even been completed), and the results should be published sometime this year.
In 2013, reports that a chemical called cannabidiol (CBD) had reduced the seizures of a 6-year-old girl from near-death levels to almost zero sent desperate patients everywhere on a frenzied quest for treatment.
Why That Evidence Was Deemed Insufficient
So when we reported earlier this month that a new National Academy of Sciences report—the most in-depth analysis of marijuana research to date—concluded that there was not enough evidence to say that cannabis oil could actually treat epilepsy, some people were surprised:
Second, as noted above, even with design flaws that might have made CBD appear more effective than it really is, the available studies found that for most patients the drug did not work better than existing anti-epilepsy medication in treatment-resistant patients. That is, it reduced seizures by only a small amount in most patients.
For three reasons, mainly.
First, there was simply not enough of that kind of evidence. FDA-approved drugs are usually deemed effective or ineffective based on large-scale clinical trials that study hundreds to thousands of patients over several years. These studies followed only a few hundred patients in all, and for only a few months.