Every year, about 150,000 Americans will develop epilepsy. Most of them will be elderlies and children. In fact, about 300,000 children under the age of 15 have pediatric epilepsy—that’s more than 10 percent of the the total number of patients.
While it’s a relatively uncontroversial proposition to allow grandma smoke the occasional joint partake of cannabis’s increasingly well recognized anticonvulsant effect, things don’t look nearly as benign when the focus turns to cannabis and kids. But a trial lead by researchers at NYU suggests that, overall, the risks of giving a certain cannabinoid to children may outweighed by the help it could do.
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That study, published in Lancet Neurology at the end of 2015, provides the first estimate of the safety and efficacy of prescription CBD in children with treatment-resistant epilepsy. The chief finding: Over a 12 week-period, there was a median 36.5 percent reduction in seizures. (Which rivals the success rate of most epilepsy medication.) About half of the patients saw a reduction of about 50 percent, while two were completely free of symptoms.
CBD is less controversial for use with children because it lacks the psychoactive properties of THC (AKA the cannabinoid that gets you stoned).
The CBD was “well tolerated” by most patients, but that doesn’t mean that everything was terrific. Many experienced “mild to moderate” side effect, including drowsiness, decreased appetite, diarrhea, and fatigue. A few even had more convulsions. In fact, five participant dropped out of the study because of adverse effects.
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Moreover, the trial results are not beyond dispute. The trial was not controlled and participants knew what they were taking, so there’s a strong possibility of placebo effect. (A University of Colorado study showed that, while 22 percent of native Coloradans taking medical marijuana reported improvement, that number leaped to 47 percent among families who moved to the state specifically for treatment.)
Nevertheless, the results are promising for patients and may point to a new path of pharmaceutical research. Says Dr. Orrin, CDB is “completely different than any other seizure drug we know.”
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Orrin and his team are now undertaking a double-blind, controlled trial. If they can come close to matching these results, pediatric CBD may be our future.