Nav: Home

Content of illicit cannabis extracts used to treat children with epilepsy revealed

July 05, 2018

A pioneering study has found Australian parents who turned to medicinal cannabis to treat children with epilepsy overwhelmingly (75 percent) considered the extracts as "effective". Contrary to parental expectations, extracts generally contained low doses of cannabidiol (CBD) - commonly considered to be a key therapeutic element and that has been successfully used in recent clinical trials to treat epilepsy.

The research, which commenced two years ago by the University of Sydney's Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics, not only sheds light on the composition of cannabis used in the community but also reveals the legal, bureaucratic, and cost issues faced by families who relied on the products, as well as demonstrating the barriers to accessing medicinal cannabis.

The study found that the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC), and the closely related compound THCA, were present in most extracts, although the quantity was generally not enough to produce intoxicating effects. Just over half the extracts were associated with a seizure reduction of 75-100 percent, which reinforces observations from animal studies and case reports of anticonvulsant effects of THC and THCA. As well, 65 percent were associated with other beneficial effects like improved cognition (35 percent) and language skills (24 percent).

The findings are published today by Springer Nature in its leading journal, Scientific Reports.

Lead author and PhD candidate with the Lambert Initiative at the Brain and Mind Centre, Ms Anastasia Suraev, said just under half the families who used medicinal cannabis reduced their antiepileptic medication.

"Our findings highlight the huge unmet clinical need in the management of treatment-resistant epilepsy in childhood," said Miss Suraev, from the School of Psychology.

Corresponding author and academic director of the Lambert Initiative, Professor Iain McGregor, said: "Although the illicit extracts we analysed contained low doses of CBD, three in four were reported as 'effective', indicating the importance of researching the cannabis plant in its entirety for the treatment of epilepsy.

"And despite the overwhelming presence of generally low levels of THC, concentrations did not differ between samples perceived as 'effective' and 'ineffective'.

"Our research indicates there is a potential role for other cannabinoids, alone or in combination with conventional drugs, in treatment-resistant epilepsy - and this warrants further investigation so we can hopefully develop safer and more effective medicines."
-end-
Information on accessing medicinal cannabis is available at sydney.edu.au/lambert/how-to-get-medicinal-cannabis.html

Notes to editors
  • The majority of families had disclosed their use of cannabis extracts to their treating doctor with substantial variation in the level of support provided to families by the medical profession.
  • Almost half (49 percent) of the extracts were associated with families reducing some, but not all, of their child's concomitant antiepileptic medication while 45 percent did not result in any changes to the child's current medication. Three extracts (6 percent) were associated with complete cessation of all antiepileptic drugs.
  • Only 3 out of 51 extracts analysed provided doses of CBD that approached the minimum doses used in recent clinical trials of CBD (i.e. at least 10 mg/kg/day); when excluding two extracts accessed through government schemes, the average CBD dose fell to 0.64 ± 1.94 (range 0 - 12.3) mg/kg/day.
  • THCA and THC together ranked most prevalent cannabinoids (60.5 percent); CBD was most prevalent in just under a quarter of samples (23 percent) and was undetectable in 8 percent (4/51 samples). The majority of children received relatively low doses of THC, with 41 out of 51 samples being administered at less than 0.5 mg/kg/day.
  • While no serious adverse effects were reported, 37 percent of extracts were reported to have side effects. These included: worsening of pre-existing problem behaviours (12 percent), possible increase in seizures (12 percent), drowsiness/lethargy (8 percent), gastrointestinal upset (6 percent) and possible intoxication (4 percent).


University of Sydney

Related Epilepsy Articles:

Good news for kids with epilepsy
There's good news for kids with epilepsy. While several new drugs have come out in the last several years for adults with epilepsy, making those drugs available for children and teenagers has been delayed due to the challenges of testing new drugs on children.
People with epilepsy: Tell us about rare risk of death
People with epilepsy want their health care providers to tell them about a rare risk of death associated with the disorder, according to a preliminary study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 69th Annual Meeting in Boston, April 22 to 28, 2017.
New epilepsy gene network identified by scientists
Scientists have discovered a gene network in the brain associated with epilepsy.
Epilepsy -- why do seizures sometimes continue after surgery?
New research from the University of Liverpool, published in the journal Brain, has highlighted the potential reasons why many patients with severe epilepsy still continue to experience seizures even after surgery.
Redox biomarker could predict progression of epilepsy
Approximately 2.9 million people in the United States suffer from epilepsy, according to the CDC.
Many Malaysian children with epilepsy are vitamin D deficient
Long-term use of antiepileptic drugs is a significant risk factor for vitamin D deficiency in children with epilepsy.
Changes in heart activity may signal epilepsy
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have found that the parasympathetic nervous system modulates breathing and slows the heart rate of sleeping children with epilepsy substantially more than in healthy children.
Few answers in understanding death from epilepsy
To increase understanding of mortality in epilepsy, including SUDEP, Partners Against Mortality in Epilepsy (PAME) unites physicians, scientists, health care professionals, people with epilepsy, caregivers and bereaved family members for a unique conference that facilitates collaboration and spurs action.
New insights into epilepsy drug Retigabine
A study published ahead of print in the Journal of General Physiology has revealed new insights into Retigabine, a known pharmacological treatment for epilepsy.
Are women with epilepsy using effective contraception?
In the largest study of contraceptive practices of women with epilepsy, 30 percent did not use highly effective contraception despite being at higher risk of having children with fetal malformations due to the anti-epilepsy medications they take.

Related Epilepsy Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#514 Arctic Energy (Rebroadcast)
This week we're looking at how alternative energy works in the arctic. We speak to Louie Azzolini and Linda Todd from the Arctic Energy Alliance, a non-profit helping communities reduce their energy usage and transition to more affordable and sustainable forms of energy. And the lessons they're learning along the way can help those of us further south.