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This article was published in March 2014. The information may be out of date. Please check our epilepsy information or our site A-Z.

The ongoing cannabis debate

31 Mar 2014

Can the chemical compounds in cannabis effectively treat conditions like epilepsy? If they can, who should have access to them? Several US states are making medical marijuana legal while the American Epilepsy Society is calling for more research. The cannabis debate continues

Two senators in Florida, US, have proposed legal bills designed to legalise treatment with medical marijuana. The bills come ahead of a constitutional amendment that will be looked at in November.

This amendment would make medical marijuana legal for the treatment of cancer, HIV/AIDS and motor neurone disease (MND). It is anticipated that this legislation will become law.

Cannabis plantA related bill in Florida specifically relates to the (allegedly) non-psychotropic marijuana extract, called ‘Charlotte’s Web’. [‘Non-psychotropic’ means that this type of marijuana will not make someone ‘high’.]

This is the cannabis oil that has recently made headlines with a range of stories from across the US. Many parents of children with epilepsy have said that the oil is the only thing to control seizures in their children. (These stories include that of Charlotte Figi, who this strain is named after.)

This bill makes Florida the fourth state in the US to propose legalising cannabis oil, alongside New York, Washington state and Minnesota. The oil is already legal in Colorado. Many families have already moved to the state purely to access the treatment.

Meanwhile, the American Epilepsy Society has called on federal government to reconsider how marijuana is classified. The organisation would like to see more scientific research into the medicinal use of marijuana in treating seizures. However, this research is difficult to do while marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 substance. Schedule 1 classification means that marijuana is considered ‘most dangerous’ and does not have any accepted medical uses.

Another cannabis plantThe US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently granted a cannabis compound ‘orphan drug’ status, however. The compound is called Epidiolex and is being developed by GW Pharma. It is called cannabidiol.

Cannabidiol has been developed from a chemical found in the marijuana plant that has virtually no psychoactive properties. The orphan drug status is not an FDA approval, but does allow clinical trials of the compound to begin. The compound may then receive FDA approval if it proves effective as a treatment.

Epidiolex has been developed from compounds researched at Reading University. The research team was headed up by Ben Whalley, the UK’s leading researcher exploring cannabis-based treatments. Dr Whalley has now published a monograph on the use of cannabis in treating epilepsy for American Herbal Pharmacopeia.

Dr Whalley’s exploration of cannabis treatments for epilepsy appears in the Spring edition of Epilepsy Professional.

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