DEC 20, 2017 4:19 PM PST

Medical Cannabis and Pediatric Epilepsy: What Parents Should Know

WRITTEN BY: Loren DeVito

According to a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2015, 3.4 million Americans have epilepsy, a neurological disorder that can cause hundreds of seizures a day in the most severe cases. Of this group of patients, 470,000 are children.

Jacqueline French, MD, chief scientific officer at the Epilepsy Foundation, responded to the report in a press release: “These numbers show a substantial growth from previous data. One of the biggest challenges with epilepsy is that it is frequently under diagnosed and under recognized, in part because it is associated with many co-occurring conditions.”

Challenges in Treating Pediatric Epilepsy

While there are numerous medications available to treat adults with epilepsy (although different types of epilepsy may require more intensive therapy or additional interventions), pediatric patients, and their parents or caregivers, often struggle the most with controlling the condition. Younger patients may be more likely to experience safety side effects from anti-epileptic medications, which can be nearly as impairing as the disease itself. In fact, in many cases, parents or caregivers would rather their children not even take these medications to avoid these issues.

In addition to side effects, very severe forms of pediatric epilepsy do not respond to current medications. Such rare disorders, which include infantile spasms, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), and Dravet syndrome, can result in severe disabilities and significantly impair cognitive development. Faced with very sick children and medications that either do not stop the seizures or add a list of safety concerns, many parents have looked to cannabis as a way to potentially help their children.

Turning to Medical Cannabis

Many parents have based their decision to treat their children with medical cannabis on numerous accounts of anecdotal evidence pointing to its benefits. But what does the literature say?

While initial research on cannabis and epilepsy was rather mixed, more recent evidence has added fuel to the cannabis-epilepsy fire. A clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine evaluated the effects of a synthetic form of CBD on 120 children and young adults with Dravet syndrome and treatment-resistant seizures across 14 weeks. CBD treatment significantly reduced the number of seizure in these patients.

GW Pharmaceuticals is the company that developed this synthetic form of CBD, called Epidiolex, and is currently testing its safety and efficacy in clinical trials for patients with Dravet syndrome or LGS. Hopefully, Epidiolex will soon proceed to the FDA submission process, on its way to becoming an approved therapeutic.

But What Do We Do in the Meantime?

Many parents or caregivers whose children need medical cannabis to control their epilepsy are not willing to wait until this product is approved for use – they need to help their children now. And while those who live in states where medical cannabis is legal are able to treat their child with cannabis, those who do not are taking significant legal risks by traveling to states where it is legal and even bringing it back home.

Watch the video below to learn about one parent’s experience with cannabis and how current research is making strides toward a greater understanding of the effects of cannabis in children with epilepsy:

 

About the Author
  • Academically trained neuroscientist with extensive experience in science and medical writing across a wide range of therapeutic areas.
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