Treating epilepsy presents a variety of challenges for patients and their families. Sometimes, it takes time to find the right medication and dosing to properly manage seizures and other epilepsy-related health issues. Or it may be necessary to adjust the medication so that it doesn’t cause side effects that impact quality of life. This is especially true for patients with two rare forms of severe childhood-onset epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
In the search for new treatments for these rare forms of epilepsy, researchers have been studying marijuana-based drugs for their potential seizure-controlling benefits. In June, the FDA approved cannabidiol (CBD), a marijuana-based medication, for the treatment of seizures in patients (age 2 and older) who have been diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome.
Here, epilepsy expert Elaine Wyllie, MD, explains the science behind the new treatment, common side effects and guidance for use.
Q: How is CBD different from marijuana?
A: Unlike marijuana, CBD does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that causes users to feel high. Since the THC has been removed, researchers believe that CBD treatment is likely to involve a low risk of abuse or addiction. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration will soon reclassify CBD in a medication category among other drugs that have received federal approval for medical use.
Q: What research was used to evaluate CBD?
A: The FDA reviewed the results from three clinical trials involving more than 500 children and adults with either Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome. The researchers conducted randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind studies that followed strict guidelines to ensure accurate and reliable results.
The following results demonstrate the efficacy of CBD:
- Patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome who received CBD experienced a 37 percent to 42 percent reduction in drop seizures (involving muscle stiffening or limpness in the body, trunk or head, which can cause a patient to fall).
- About 43 percent of patients with Dravet syndrome who were treated with CBD had a 50 percent or greater reduction in convulsive seizures — compared with 27 percent of placebo patients.