A case series published in the open-access journal BMJ Paediatrics Open reveals that whole-plant cannabis extracts can reduce epileptic seizures in children by 86%. The study looked into the effects of whole-plant medicinal cannabis in 10 children with severe epilepsy who did not respond to conventional treatments, including CBD extracts that are currently mainly prescribed for their condition.
The study “Medical cannabis for severe treatment-resistant epilepsy in children: a case-series of 10 patients”, was published by Rayyan Zafar, PhD at the Centre for Psychedelic Research and Neuropsychopharmacology, Department of Brain Sciences, Imperial College London, his Imperial College colleagues Anne Schlag, David J Nutt, and Lawrence Phillips, from the London School of Economics and Political Science. They also list their affiliation with the public institution DrugScience, which was founded by professor Nutt in 2010.
According to the authors, the study “establishes the feasibility of whole-plant medical cannabis as an effective and well-tolerated medicine for reducing seizure frequency in children suffering from intractable epilepsies.” They also mention in the paper that substantial anecdotal evidence on the value of medicinal cannabis for treating childhood epilepsy has been accumulating since the 1800s. However, there has not been much evidence on the efficacy of whole-plant medicinal cannabis so far.
The authors also expose UK patients’ challenges to access cannabis-based products (CMBPs). As in many other countries, doctors in the UK are reluctant to prescribe CMBPs to patients. “Many patients are thus forced to resort to private treatment which costs up to £2000 per month”, the authors write.
The children that participated in the study were recruited through two charities, MedCann Support and End Our Pain, that represent children who use medicinal cannabis to treat their intractable epilepsies. In total, 10 children participated in the study. Their average age was 6 years old, although ages varied from 1 to 13 years old. The children had different types of epilepsy, and three of them had other concurrent issues, including infantile spasms, learning disabilities, and global developmental delay. All the participants received whole-plant extract cannabis-based medicinal products either through private prescription or through the NHS.
Among the CBMPs used in the study, there were extracts made of Bedrolite (<1% THC and 9% CBD) and Bedica (14% THC and <1% CBD), two Bedrocan products. The study also compared other CMBPs to Bedrocan products’ extracts. “One patient saw a significant worsening of symptoms including an increase in seizure frequency when switching from Bedrolite and Bedica products to other whole-plant CBMPs. The other three patients that changed CBMPs from Bedrolite and Bedica to other products noted the burden of cost as the primary reason for switching products, though all these patients reported the efficacy of Bedrolite and Bedica in reducing seizure frequency”, the team reported.
Although the study brings hope and valuable data for the treatment of children with severe epilepsy, it also reports its limitations that require further research on the subject. Among the limitations of the study are the use of retrospective data based on parental recall (though these often maintained seizure diaries), no randomisation or use of placebo, the possibility of biased information given by parents of children that had had the largest clinical impact from using medicinal cannabis, and, finally, the small number of participants.