Marijuana, Without THC, Helps Treat Epilepsy: New Study

A study by NYU Langone Medical Center studied the impact of a medicine made from marijuana after removing its hallucinogenic ingredient THC and found it effective in bringing down epilepsy seizures among children.

The medicine called Epidiolex, contains a liquid form of cannabidiol, one of marijuana’s more than 100 ingredients. It doesn’t contain THC, the hallucinogenic ingredient found in marijuana and makers of the drug, GW Pharmaceuticals of London, are now exploring the possibility of obtaining a license from the US Food and Drug Association.

Though several studies and anecdotal references to marijuana’s beneficial properties for epilepsy had been cited in the past, this is the “first solid, rigorously obtained scientific data,” said Dr. Orrin Devinsky of NYU Langone Medical Center, lead researcher of the study.

The use of marijuana has long been neglected or ignored for medical use due to special licenses, legal constraints and false notions surrounding the use of marijuana and the risks associated with it, he explained. Defending its use, Devinsky cited more figures: “Opiates kill over 30,000 Americans a year, alcohol kills over 80,000 a year. And marijuana, as best we know, probably kills less than 50 people a year.”

The trial involved one group which was given the drug, another a dummy version, and neither patients, parents nor doctors were told who’s got what until the study was completed. The trial included 120 children aged 2 to 18 and the period was for 12 weeks at a stretch.

However, in case of those suffering from severe epilepsy due to faulty gene, known as Dravet syndrome, the results were not impressive though some patients have reports reduction in seizures. Among those suffering from serious seizures with convulsions, the number dropped from around 12 a month to about six after consuming the new drug. Three of the participants became seizure-free during the study, said researchers.

But the side effects of Epidiolex include diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, sleep problems and other issues, forcing 12 patients or 10% of the participants to drop out of the study. Dr. Samuel Berkovic, an epilepsy researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia, who has worked with Devinsky in the past, said in his review that the “anecdote has been confirmed by data.”

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

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