Cannabidiol, a compound derived from marijuana, can significantly reduce and even eliminate seizures in children and young adults suffering from Dravet syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy, findings of a new clinical trial have shown.
Dravet syndrome usually begins in the first year of life and causes multiple kinds of seizures, speech and language problems, developmental delays, movement and balance problems, and behavioral issues.
The condition, which is attributed to a faulty gene, is a rare but deadly form of epilepsy, a neurological disorder marked by disruption of the electrical communication between the neurons and the brain.
About one in 20,000 to 40,000 kids in the United States has Dravet syndrome.
Epilepsy Medications Not Effective For Dravet Sufferers
Epilepsy medications do not usually work for patients with Dravet, so 20 percent of children with the condition die from seizures before reaching the age of 20. Anecdotes from those who have used cannabidiol for the condition, however, offered hope for patients suffering from Dravet syndrome.
Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is one of over 80 active cannabinoid chemicals present in the marijuana plant, a Schedule I controlled substance. The compound has no psychoactive properties.
Effect Of Cannabidiol In Patients With Dravet Syndrome
In the new study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on May 24, 120 participants between 2 and 18 years old with Dravet syndrome were given either cannabidiol or placebo plus their anti-seizure medications for 14 weeks.
During the study period, the frequency of convulsive seizures dropped from an average of 12.4 to 5.9 per month in those who took the marijuana extract. Seizure rates remained relatively the same in those who received placebo at 14.9 to 14.1 per month.
On average, the participants in the cannabidiol group experienced 39 percent reduction in seizure frequency. Those in the placebo group had 13 percent reduction in seizure frequency. Five percent of the participants did not suffer any seizure during the entire study period.
Patients who received the cannabis extract experienced some side effects that include diarrhea, fatigue, vomiting, and abnormal results on liver-function tests, but New York University Comprehensive Epilepsy Center director Orrin Devinsky, one of the study leaders, said that most of these reactions associated with CBD treatment were mild and could be reduced by adjusting the doses.
"Among patients with the Dravet syndrome, cannabidiol resulted in a greater reduction in convulsive-seizure frequency than placebo and was associated with higher rates of adverse events," Devinsky and colleagues wrote in their study.
CBD As Treatment For Dravet And Other Epilepsy Types
The findings of the new study offer evidence that the marijuana compound can be a safe and effective treatment for sufferers of Dravet syndrome.
"For 3,800 years, healers and physicians have been prescribing cannabis and documented that use to treat epilepsy," Devinsky said. "After nearly 4,000 years we for the first time have vigorous scientific data that a compound from cannabis works to treat epilepsy."
Based on study results, the researchers think that CBD should also be assessed as treatment for other epilepsy types besides Dravet.