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Medical cannabis reduces seizures by 86% in children with epilepsy – study

The findings have prompted further calls for specialists to be allowed to prescribe on the NHS.



Epidyolex clincal trial Doose syndrome
Seizure frequency across all 10 participants reduced by 86 per cent

Seizure frequency fell by 86% in children with intractable epilepsy, who were using medical cannabis, a new study has found, prompting further calls for NHS access.

Epileptic seizure frequency fell by an average of 86 per cent among 10 children treated with whole plant medicinal cannabis, reveals a case series, published in the journal, BMJ Paediatrics Open. 

Researchers at Drug Science, the UK charity for drug reform, studied 10 children suffering with intractable epilepsies, to assess the change in monthly seizure frequency and the impact of medicinal cannabis on conventional epilepsy drug use. 

Seizure frequency across all 10 participants reduced by 86 per cent, with investigators reporting no significant adverse effects. One patient showed full remission from seizures.

Participants were also able to reduce their use of anti-epileptic drugs, from an average of seven to one, following treatment with medical cannabis.

The paper follows previous findings from Drug Science, that a child would have a 96 per cent chance of having a significant reduction in seizures were they to be prescribed cannabis.

The children, recruited from lobby group End Our Pain and Medcan Support, were between the ages of one to 13 years, with a range of epilepsies. Three had other concurrent issues, including infantile spasms, learning disabilities, and global developmental delay.

None of them had responded to other treatments, including the only cannabidiol (CBD) product licensed for their condition Epidyolex. 

Parents and carers reported significant improvements in the health and wellbeing of their children, including in sleep, eating, behaviour and cognition after they started to take whole plant medicinal cannabis products. Only a few minor side effects, such as tiredness, were reported. 

“Huge relief” for families

Researcher on the study, Rayyan Zafar, described the impact as “outstanding”, with positive outcomes for the wellbeing of the whole family.

Speaking to Cannabis Health, Zafar, commented: “All the children in our study had a substantial reduction in seizures which was paired with improvements in their behaviour, sleeping patterns, eating and cognitive abilities. 

“The impact it has had was truly outstanding with one patient showing full remission in their seizures. For the families this was obviously a huge relief, allowing them to see a renewed sense of reassurance in their child’s health which also had positive impacts on their own wellbeing.” 

The paper also highlights that those families involved in the study were paying an average of £874 a month to ​​access these medicines through private prescriptions.

Since medical cannabis was legalised in the UK in 2018, only three prescriptions have been issued on the NHS.

Those behind the study believe this data provides evidence to support its introduction into the NHS within current NICE prescribing guidelines. 

“These data provide adequate evidence for the clinical efficacy for whole-plant medical cannabis in this patient group and this data should complement the growing literature to support this as a licensed intervention,” said Zafar.

“We hope we have highlighted the burden of private prescriptions and encourage the NHS to allow for specialist physicians to prescribe these medicines through the NHS where clinically appropriate.”

Growing calls for NHS access

The paper contributes to growing calls from patients, campaigners, doctors and scientists, for medical cannabis to be available more widely on the NHS, particularly for those living with childhood epilepsies.

In light of the increasing pressures facing the NHS, access to medical cannabis could potentially save the healthcare system hundreds of thousands, in costs related to intensive care treatment and conventional anti-epileptic drugs.

Zafar believes allowing doctors to prescribe would be in the “best interest” of both the patients and the NHS.

“Our case series highlights the remarkable and life changing results of this intervention that standard licensed anti-epileptic drugs have not been able to achieve,” he added.

“In the current era with higher demands on the NHS cost saving is of paramount importance. Here we demonstrate how a very difficult to treat and unwell clinical population have managed to regain control of seizures through a relatively inexpensive, safe and effective intervention. The alternative being high costs due to repeated ICU trips and high costs associated with their care. Given this and the external pressures faced by the NHS in the present day, we believe it would be in the best interest of both the patients and the NHS to prescribe these medicines for these patients.”


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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister title and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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