Cannabidiol May Help in the Treatment of Epilepsy

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Cannabidiol May Help in the Treatment of Epilepsy
Cannabidiol May Help in the Treatment of Epilepsy

THURSDAY, Sept. 10, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Cannabidiol from marijuana might help prevent epilepsy seizures, but drug laws have hampered research efforts, according to a report published in the Sept. 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Daniel Friedman, M.D., and Orrin Devinsky, M.D., from the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, explain that a major brain receptor that responds to marijuana -- cannabinoid receptor 1, or CB1 -- appears to have anticonvulsant effects when activated. CB1 receptors are most strongly activated by tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in marijuana that causes intoxication. But a review of animal studies found that non-intoxicating cannabidiol shows the most promise in preventing seizures, the researchers said.

One ongoing human trial involving Epidiolex, a British-made cannabis extract that's 99 percent cannabidiol, has shown that the chemical can be effective in humans, Friedman said. About two out of every five patients with severe treatment-resistant epilepsy experienced a 50 percent reduction in the frequency of their major seizures. "A handful of these children and young adults with epilepsy who have never had prolonged periods of seizure freedom did actually become seizure-free, at least in the short-term of this study," he said.

Based on these results, at least three companies are developing cannabidiol-based drugs, and trials are either underway or set to start soon. But the results may be marred by the fact that this was an open-label trial, in which both the researchers and the patients knew what drug was being administered, Friedman added. As a result, people may have experienced some improvement just because they expected the drug to produce positive results. There are also some concerns regarding marijuana's effect on the developing brain. Studies involving recreational users have shown that marijuana can alter the structure of the brain in young people, the authors said.

Both authors disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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