Cannabis Shows Seizure Relief in Hard-to-Treat Epilepsy

Liquid cannabidiol reduced seizures up to 50% in some patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

Cannabidiol is a molecule derived from cannabis, but it lacks the psychoactive side effects of the drug. Results from a large scale clinical trials suggest that the molecule could reduce seizures by 50% for patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), a form of epilepsy typically diagnosed in children, according to a presentation at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting.

Patients with LGS experience multiple types of seizures: drop seizures, which are characterized by collapsing, and tonic-clonic seizures, which are characterized by unconsciousness and convulsions. Drop and tonic-clonic seizures typically do not respond well to medication and are hard to control. These patients typically experience impaired intellectual development.

Although seizures are generally brief, they can lead to injury and utilization of the emergency department. Controlling these seizures would improve patient health and reduce costs.

"Our study found that cannabidiol shows great promise in that it may reduce seizures that are otherwise difficult to control," said study author Anup Patel, MD.

Included in the study were 225 patients with LGS who experienced an average of 85 drop seizures per month. Patients were an average age of 16 and had tried multiple epilepsy drugs that were ineffective. During the study, the authors reported that patients were taking an average of 3 drugs.

Patients were treated with cannabidiol 20-mg/kg per day, 10-mg/kg per day, or placebo in addition to their current drug regimen for 14 weeks.

The authors discovered that 40% of patients with LGS taking the higher dose of liquid cannabidiol experienced at least a 50% reduction in seizures, while another 42% observed a drop in overall seizures, according to the study.

The benefits were also seen among patients taking the lower dose. Those patients saw a 37% reduction in seizures overall, and for 36% of patients, a 50% or more drop in seizures was found.

Nearly all of the patients taking the higher dose cohort and 84% of the lower dose cohort experienced side effects, while only 72% of placebo patients reported side effects, according to the study. However, the side effects were said to be mild to moderate and included decreased appetite and sleepiness.

Patients treated with cannabidiol were also more likely to report improved disease control. Up to 66% of those in the treatment cohorts reported their condition was improved, while only 44% of placebo patients reported this, according to the study.

The authors said the liquid cannabidiol will be submitted for FDA approval this year, and it has the potential to treat LGS.

"Our results suggest that cannabidiol may be effective for those with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome in treating drop seizures," Dr Patel concluded. "This is important because this kind of epilepsy is incredibly difficult to treat. While there were more side effects for those taking cannabidiol, they were mostly well-tolerated. I believe that it may become an important new treatment option for these patients."