Researchers in Scotland hope to conduct clinical trials on an experimental epilepsy drug derived from marijuana.
A team at Edinburgh University is applying for permission to study the treatment in children who suffer from severe forms of epilepsy.
The drug, Epidiolex, is made from cannabis with high levels of a compound known as cannabidiol (CBD). While CBD has shown promise in preventing seizures, it does not cause the high associated with more common varieties of marijuana.
Dr. Richard Chin, a pediatric neurologist with the Muir Maxwell Epilepsy Centre at Edinburgh University, believes the drug may be able to help those who don’t respond to traditional treatments.“It also improves behaviour and cognition”“One of the exciting things about CBD isn’t its seizure control alone — it is its anti-epilepsy properties. It also improves behaviour and cognition,” he says.
“You can put children in intensive care and stop seizures, but it does nothing for their quality of life, nothing for cognition and nothing for the families. To have a drug that stops the seizures and also has cognitive improvement is pretty amazing.”
Similar trials were approved last year in the United States and are currently underway at research centers in California and New York. Professor Patricia Corby of NYU’s Bluestone Centre for Clinical Research says the results so far have been “extremely promising.”
Many of the cases involve children suffering from rare types of epilepsy, such as Lennox–Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. These disorders become more severe over time and typically do not respond well to conventional medicines, explains Dr. Chin.
“The children can go from having a seizure every day to having even 200 seizures per day. This is what families have to go through. There is obviously a need to find alternative treatments,” he says.
Dr. Chin’s team hopes to receive approval by the end of the year. They plan to recruit 30 children for two separate trials, one in Edinburgh and another at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.