A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated, using a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, that a component of marijuana called cannabidiol resulted in greater reduction in the number of convulsive seizures than placebo among children with Dravet syndrome—a rare form of epilepsy that is associated with a high mortality rate. In the study, which involved 120 children and young adults, the median number of convulsive seizures per month decreased from 12.4 to 5.9 with cannabidiol, compared with a decrease of 14.9 to 14.1 with placebo over a 14-week period. Of those participants taking cannabidiol, 43 percent had their number of seizures reduced by half or more, compared with 27 percent taking a placebo. And 5 percent of those taking cannabidiol had their seizures disappear, compared with none in the placebo group. The study authors noted that cannabidiol was associated with some severe adverse effects, including vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, and elevation of liver-enzyme levels. The study was funded by GW Pharmaceuticals.
Why is the study important?
Some families have been using cannabidiol or other components of marijuana on their own to treat their children’s epilepsy, despite a lack of scientific study on its effectiveness or risks. Many questions remain, but this study provides some promising insight into the use of cannabinoids for epilepsy.
- Devinsky O, Cross JH, Laux L, et al. Trial of cannabidiol for drug-resistant seizures in the Dravey Syndrome. New England Journal of Medicine. 2017;376:2011-2020.