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This article was published in September 2013. The information may be out of date. Please check our epilepsy information or our site A-Z.

Human trials of cannabis treatment

27 Sep 2013

After a lengthy pre-clinical research programme at the University of Reading, GW Pharmaceuticals has begun human trials of a chemical compound found in cannabis. This compound appears to help control seizures and with relatively few side-effects

The evidence surrounding the use of cannabis to treat epilepsy has a long and complex history. Whether the drug can effectively treat seizures has been hotly debated – particularly recently.

Several high-profile cases in the US have led to the use of some chemicals derived from cannabis – called ‘cannabinoids’ – being used to treat severe childhood epilepsies. The laws in some states of America have even been changed to allow this.

Several different chemical compounds found in cannabis have recently been tested during a pre-clinical research programme at the University of Reading. This process identified a particular compound that seems very promising as a treatment for epilepsy.

cannabis plantThe compound is called GWP42006. It is non-psychoactive, which means that (despite the reputation of cannabis as a recreational drug) it does not make you ‘high’. According to the data from the Reading programme, it does help control seizures.

Dr Ben Whalley is Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology at the Reading School of Pharmacy. In a statement issued by GW Pharmaceuticals, Dr Whalley said: “Our research collaboration with GW Pharmaceuticals over the last several years has shown that GWP42006 not only exerts anticonvulsant effects… but is also better tolerated compared to existing anti-epileptic drugs.”

Dr Whalley went on to point out that GWP42006 “appears to employ a different mechanism of action to existing anti-epileptic drugs”. This means that the exact way it controls seizures is different from how other medications work. In turn, this means that people with epilepsy whose seizures cannot be controlled with current treatments might respond to this one.

GW Pharmaceuticals has now begun human trials of GWP42006 with a view to developing the compound into an epilepsy medication. For more information, read the GW Pharmaceuticals press release or read about the University of Reading pre-clinical research programme.

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