A key ingredient in cannabis may help to curb the frequency of epileptic seizures, say researchers.
The UK and Australian study, published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, comes as a former Conservative Home Office minister lent his support to a campaign to allow a 6-year-old boy to be given the drug to treat his rare form of epilepsy.
Reviewing the evidence
Researchers from the University of New South Wales and King’s College London reviewed available evidence on whether cannabinoids may supress convulsions.
They examined results from 6 clinical trials involving 555 people and 30 observational studies involving 2,865 people.
The patients, with an average age of 16, had rare forms of epilepsy that had not responded well to conventional treatments.
Data from the clinical trials showed that one of the naturally occurring compounds in cannabis, cannabidiol, or CBD for short, reduced the frequency of epileptic seizures by 50% or more compared to a placebo (dummy) drug.
CBD was also more effective than the placebo drug at eradicating seizures altogether, although the researchers say this was rare.
The most commonly reported side-effects were drowsiness and dizziness.
An analysis of 17 of the observational studies found that the frequency of seizures dropped by at least 50% in 48.5% of people.
In 14 of the observational studies, 8.5% of those taking CBD were seizure-free.
Quality of life improved for 55.8% of people in 12 of the observational studies.
Israel, the Netherlands, Germany, and Canada have passed laws to allow the use of cannabinoids for medicinal purposes. In Australia, federal and state legislation that allows doctors to prescribe
cannabinoids is being implemented.
Sir Mike Penning MP is backing the parents of Alfie Dingley who are calling on the government to grant their son a special licence to be treated with medicinal cannabis oil.
The Warwickshire youngster, who has a rare form of epilepsy called PCHD-19, experiences 150 epileptic seizures a month and has to be treated in hospital each time.
Last year, his mother took him to the Netherlands where he was prescribed a cannabis-based medication. This led to a reduction in the number and severity of his seizures.
In widely reported comments, Sir Mike told the Press Association: “I have a huge amount of sympathy for Alfie Dingley and his family who are suffering because of the restrictions imposed by our current drug laws which prevent the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.”
“When I was police and justice Minister in the Home Office, I stated clearly in the House of Commons that there needs to be a legalised method of provision for cannabis so that it may be used to treat illnesses like multiple sclerosis and severe epilepsy.
“However, in my view, there is substantial scientific evidence showing that cannabis is a harmful drug and, in its street form, is a gateway drug for many users.
“But surely in the 21st century, we can find an acceptable way to separate the two so that patients who gain relief from the use of the drug are legally and safely able to do so whilst recreational use is still restricted.”
The Home Office has previously said it would consider a medical trial for Alfie, but the boy’s parents say this has not been confirmed.
Yesterday, Sir Richard Branson tweeted: “Puzzled to see UK among world’s leading producers of medical #cannabis. If good enough to export, why isn’t it good enough for people like Alfie Dingley, suffering from chronic disease and pain in the UK.”