As many as 200,000 people with ‘drug-resistant’ epilepsy may finally be able to improve their condition after a treatment derived from cannabis was found to significantly reduce seizures. About two-thirds of Britain’s 600,000 epilepsy sufferers are able to control their condition using drugs that largely, or completely, stop their seizures.
Until now, drugs have been unable to help the other third.
But a new treatment made from cannabidiol was found to cut seizures by an average of 39 per cent in children with a rare form of epilipsy that cannot be controlled by drugs, known as Dravet syndrome. For 5 per cent of patients, seizures stopped completely.
Epilepsy is not a single disease – rather it is many different seizure-causing diseases that affect the brain. There are more than 130 known causes of epilepsy.
The drug, which is derived from cannabis but with the psycho-active elements removed, is expected to become available some time next year.
“The results of this study and provide us with firm evidence of the effectiveness of cannabidiol. This drug could make a considerable difference to children living with Dravet syndrome and currently endure debilitating seizures,” said Professor Helen Cross, a consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Apart from helping the 1 in 40,000 children who suffer from Dravet syndrome, Prof Cross said the drug, which is being produced by GW Pharmaceuticals, appears to have the potential to provide relief to the 200,000 people with other strains of drug-resistant epilepsy – although more research is needed to be sure.
The study is published in the journal New England Journal of Medicine.
Not the same as cannabis
Although cannabidiol is a key ingredient in cannabis, Prof Cross was emphatic that people with epilepsy shouldn’t resort to smoking it to bring relief.
“This is cannabidiol the pharmaceutically prepared product. It is not oils that are available over the internet and the result cannot be transcribed to that at all. And certainly it isn’t any relation to cannabis in its plant form. This is the pharamaceutically prepared product with virtually no THC,” she said.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis.
Dr Peter Steer, chief executive of Great Ormond Street Hospital, added: “The importance of this research cannot be under-estimated. It is the first time that a drug has been identified which can significantly reduce the risk of seizures for children living with Dravet syndrome.”