Will You Treat Your Child’s Epileptic Seizures With Weed?
Up to 30% of children with epilepsy are not getting any help with current drugs, and there is no treatment available specifically for Dravet’s syndrome (Photo: iStock)
Up to 30% of children with epilepsy are not getting any help with current drugs, and there is no treatment available specifically for Dravet’s syndrome (Photo: iStock)

Will You Treat Your Child’s Epileptic Seizures With Weed?

(November 17 was national Epilepsy Day and this article has been re-published in light of this. Epilepsy is shrouded in misconceptions and this article aims to raise awareness of alternative treatment methods for one of the most common neurological disorders in children and adolescents.)

It’s a winning day for a pharmaceutical company making medical drugs extracted from marijuana. An experimental cannabis-based drug has shown to work wonders in reducing epileptic seizures in little babies in clinical trials.

Nothing is more distressing than seeing a baby suffer a seizure. Epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder in children and it takes the form of recurring seizures - but it’s not a single disease. Like autism, epilepsy is a diverse spectrum of disorders that comprise of many types of seizures.

According to the Indian Epilepsy Centre, nearly 60 lakh children and adolescents in India suffer from some form of epilepsy. The most common and serious type in infants is Dravet syndrome - currently, there is no cure for it and very limited treatment options are available.

Big breakthrough for medical marijuana - if this drug gets US FDA’s nod, it would be the first legally available cannabis-extracted drug to make way to the shelves (Photo: iStock altered by The Quint)
Big breakthrough for medical marijuana - if this drug gets US FDA’s nod, it would be the first legally available cannabis-extracted drug to make way to the shelves (Photo: iStock altered by The Quint)

However, London-based GW Pharmaceuticals, claims, their marijuana-derived drug Epidiolex, reduced convulsive seizures in kids by nearly 40%.

If this drug gets the US Food and Drug Administration’s blessings, it will be the first prescription drug to be legally available that is extracted from marijuana.

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The Trial

Dravet syndrome can cause mental and physical development delays in kids. Currently there is no cure or standard treatment for it (Photo: iStock)
Dravet syndrome can cause mental and physical development delays in kids. Currently there is no cure or standard treatment for it (Photo: iStock)

The study involved 120 children around the age of 10 suffering from epilepsy. They were divided into two groups - one was given this drug and the other placebo. Most of these children were taking an average of four epileptic tablets a day and had around 13 to 15 epileptic seizures a month.

At the end of the three-month trial, kids on Epidiolex had 40% less seizures than those on placebo. This is statistically significant because kids with Dravet syndrome have a heightened risk of sudden unexplained death, and also experience major development delays, they can rarely talk or walk properly, suffer from sleeping difficulties and chronic infections.

Should Medical Marijuana Be Approved in Medical Treatment?

The theory that marijuana could be used to treat seizures has been around since the 19th century, but it wasn’t until about 2012 when a Colorado mom named Paige Figi began posting stories online about her daughter’s experiences with a cannabis extract, that the idea took off. Figi’s daughter, Charlotte, had Dravet syndrome and had been suffering from more than 300 seizures each week. She used a wheelchair, could only say a few words and had gone into cardiac arrest several times.

American girl Charlotte Figi has Dravet syndrome - a rare and severe form of epilepsy. She suffered from thousands of seizures every week and couldn’t walk. In desperation, her parents tried treating her with medical marijuana, after just a few months their daughter started walking and talking for the first time and her seizures also stopped almost completely (Photo courtesy: CAters News Agency)
American girl Charlotte Figi has Dravet syndrome - a rare and severe form of epilepsy. She suffered from thousands of seizures every week and couldn’t walk. In desperation, her parents tried treating her with medical marijuana, after just a few months their daughter started walking and talking for the first time and her seizures also stopped almost completely (Photo courtesy: CAters News Agency)

Desperate, the family began treating her with a few drops of an extract made from a strain of medical-grade marijuana. The family reported that the seizures nearly stopped.

There are millions of such testimonies on the internet of life-saving benefits of medical marijuana. But a review published in the Journal of American Medical Association analysed dozens of clinical trials that have tested medical marijuana for 10 health conditions and found ‘very little reliable evidence’ to support its use.

In laboratory settings, cannabinoids - chemicals in marijuana, kill cancer cells and relieve the patient from pain but there is no evidence that it is currently useful in treating cancer in patients. In fact, a research in medical journal JAMA assessed 14 prior studies and determined there was “moderate-quality evidence” to support its use in chronic patients, although many of the studies reported improvements that weren’t quite big enough to qualify as statistically significant.

That said, if millions of cancer patients report ease from pain after smoking pot, you know it must be a powerful thing. The big question then, should federal drug authorities legalise it at least for medical use as a pain reliever? Or will the legalisation lead to increased rates of addiction in the general public?

Also Read: Can Cannabis Cure Cancer?

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