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Pharmaceutical cannabis could reduce sudden falls for people with treatment-resistant epilepsy

People with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a severe and lifelong form of childhood-onset epilepsy, were found to have benefitted from the treatment.

shutterstock_725285644 Source: Shutterstock/Malyshev Oleg

TREATMENT WITH PHARMACEUTICAL variants of cannabidiol could reduce fall-related seizures in treatment-resistant epilepsy sufferers, according to new research.

People with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a severe and lifelong form of childhood-onset epilepsy, who had previously been found to be resistant to conventional treatments, were found to have benefitted from such treatment according to a three-month clinical trial published by The Lancet.

The trial reduced the frequency of seizures in patients with the illness, just 10% of whom had previously been found to respond to conventional drug treatments, though the authors say that efficacy and safety of the new treatment ‘now needs to be confirmed’.

“There is an urgent need for novel treatment options for patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and we are pleased that our study has potentially found an additional option to add to patients’ existing treatment to reduce drop seizures,” said lead author of the study Dr Elizabeth Thiele of the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Our results suggest that the use of cannabidiol as an add-on therapy with other anti-epilepsy drugs might significantly reduce the frequency of drop seizures in patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, which is positive news for these patients, who often do not respond to treatment.

Drop seizures

The study focused on 171 patients aged between two and 55 from the US, the Netherlands and Poland who had displayed a variety of seizures in the preceding six months, all of whom had proven highly resistant to conventional treatments. They were administered a pharmaceutical formulation of cannabidiol, or a placebo, via a 50:50 split on a daily basis.

At the end of the trial drop seizures (falls due to a lack of muscle tone) had reduced in the cannabidiol group by 43.9% compared to a 21.8% reduction for those taking the placebo.

Those in the cannabidiol group also saw a greater reduction in other seizures also, with overall reductions of 41.2% compared with 13.7% for the placebo group.

However, 62% of the cannabidiol group also experienced side effects from the treatment, ranging from the mild to the more serious, including diarrhoea, drowsiness, fever, and vomiting.

Most such side effects were found to have resolved during the trial however.

“After many years without promise of new treatments in Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, this is an exciting time for patients and clinicians,” said Dr Sophia Varadkar of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust in the UK.

More data and clinical experience of cannabidiol in Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is expected. Clinical trials with cannabidiol are underway in tuberous sclerosis complex and infantile spasms, and future studies are expected in the other… epilepsy syndromes.

The full published study can be found here

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