Marijuana Compound May Treat Epilepsy

Cannabidiol may prevent seizures in patients with epilepsy that is resistant to treatment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Medical marijuana has been used to treat nausea and lost appetite in some patients. New research suggests it may also prevent seizures in patients with epilepsy.

In a preliminary study, researchers studied the effect of cannabidiol (brand name Epidiolex) — a compound found in marijuana — on seizures in patients with epilepsy that is resistant to treatment.

Patients who took cannabidiol saw a large drop in the number of seizures they had, the study authors found.

The authors of the recent study — to be presented at the American Epilepsy Society's 2014 annual meeting Dec. 5 through 9 — said the finding supports that of past animal studies on the topic. They also called for further research through randomized, controlled studies.

Cannabidiol is a compound found in large amounts in marijuana. It does not have the intoxicating effect of smoking or ingesting marijuana.

The study authors — led by Orrin Devinsky, MD, of the New York University School of Medicine — wanted to study the effects of cannabidiol on treatment-resistant epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by bouts of convulsions and lost consciousness — known as seizures. When patients do not see results from treatments like medication, they have treatment-resistant epilepsy.

Dr. Devinsky and team gave cannabidiol to 23 children and young adults with forms of treatment-resistant epilepsy for three months. The patients ranged in age from 3 to 26. Before starting the three-month study period, patients kept a record of their seizures for a month to help the authors see how many seizures the patients had.

Overall, seizure rates in these patients dropped by 32 percent.

And 39 percent of the patients saw their number of seizures drop by more than 50 percent. Four patients (17 percent) had no seizures for the last month of treatment.

While 78 percent of the patients had adverse events during the study period, most were not severe, the authors wrote. Adverse events included fatigue, appetite changes and weight changes.

The study authors said the findings may support past animal research on the topic.

This study was neither randomized nor controlled. That means that patients knew they were taking cannabidiol, and there was no group taking a placebo (fake treatment). In a randomized, controlled trial, neither the authors nor the patients would know which patients were getting the real treatment. The authors noted the need for that type of study to further understand the relationship between cannabidiol and seizures.

Research presented at conferences has not necessarily been peer-reviewed.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
October 24, 2014
Last Updated:
October 28, 2014