Medical cannabis for children with hard-to-treat epilepsy

Published: January 13 2022
Last updated: May 12 2023

Reports from 10 children with medicine-resistant epilepsy show effectiveness of whole-plant cannabis medicines. This is according to a new paper published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Paediatrics Open.

The BMJ study, by authors Rayyan Zafar and colleagues, presents the cases of 10 children with hard-to-treat epilepsy and the effect that taking a whole-plant cannabis medicine has had on them.

Whole-plant cannabis medicines are ones that include components from the whole cannabis plant, including a part called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. This part is linked to the feeling of a “high” when cannabis is used recreationally. There is no medicine containing THC currently licensed for use in epilepsy in the UK.

The children had all tried other epilepsy medicines before, and some had tried Epidyolex. This is the only cannabis-based medicine licensed for use in epilepsy in the UK at the moment, and contains only one part of the cannabis plant, cannabidiol (CBD).

In the study, the whole-plant cannabis medicines and doses were different for each child, depending on each case, and were prescribed by the children’s doctors.

The research concluded that seizure frequency in the children reduced by 86% with no significant side-effects. The researchers found that the number of other epilepsy medicines the children were taking could be reduced from an average of seven to one after being treated with their cannabis-based medicine.

The study also acknowledged the cost of sourcing these medicines outside of the NHS, saying that it was, on average, £874 a month.

The researchers acknowledged the limitations of their study, including a small number of participants and not being a rigorous clinical trial. However, with a lack of research in the area of whole-plant cannabis medicine in epilepsy, the National Institute or Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recently increased the use of different types of data in the development and evaluation of their guidance. This includes ‘real world’ data and other relevant data, even if it’s not collected in a traditional clinical trial format.

The study authors also said that despite the limitations, this study shows that whole-plant medical cannabis could be well tolerated and effective for reducing seizure frequency in children with medicine-resistant epilepsies. They added that this research shows the value in further studies looking at whole-plant cannabis-based medicines.

There is more information about cannabis-based medicines and campaigns work on the Epilepsy Action website.