This November, United Patients Group is celebrating National Epilepsy Awareness Month. This month has a special significance for us, as cannabis has shown to be very effective in treating various forms of epilepsy, reducing seizures, and improving the quality of life for many epilepsy patients. This month, we are especially dedicated to spreading awareness about cannabis and how it can be used to treat epilepsy.
The evidence for the efficacy of cannabis in the treatment of epilepsy is overwhelming. Dr. Margaret Gedde has studied the effects of cannabis on various forms of epilepsy such as Dravet syndrome, Doose syndrome, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, metachromatic leukodystrophy, cortical dysplasia, and idiopathic epilepsy. Dr. Gedde employed a compound of cannabis known as cannabidiol (CBD) in her studies, and each patient saw improvement where traditional treatments had failed. The results were dramatic. Eight out of 11 patients saw a 98-100% reduction in seizures. One patients saw a 75% reduction, and two reported a 20-24% reduction.
In another recent study, the NYU School of Medicine, in conjunction with the director of the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, published a report on a trial sponsored by GW Pharmaceuticals. The study is imperative for GW Pharmaceuticals, as they are attempting to pass the FDA approval process for a new drug called Epidiolex – a liquid form of pure CBD – in order to treat epilepsy.
To test the effectiveness of CBD on epilepsy patients, they sponsored the NYU study of 137 Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut patients during a 12 week period. The patients in the study had been previously unresponsive to epilepsy medications that only succeeded in producing side-effects such as drowsiness, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and fatigue. Like Dr. Gedde’s patients, the subjects in this study experienced dramatic improvement. Dravet patients saw an average 53% decrease in seizures, and Lennox-Gastaut patients experienced an average 55% decrease.
Because of the DEA’s Schedule I classification of cannabis (which ironically puts it in a category classified as having no currently accepted medical treatment use in the U.S.), it has been challenging to do extensive testing. In the place of laboratory studies, there are hundreds of personal anecdotes about the effectiveness of cannabis in the treatment of epilepsy.
Medical cannabis has been used to treat neurological conditions, such as epilepsy, for years – often with dramatic effective results, and garnered worldwide attention in 2013 after the mainstream media focused on the remarkable story of Charlotte Figi: a child with a severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome. At the age of 5, Charlotte was having nearly 300 seizures per day, and her family had been told there were no other treatment options that could help her any further. The family turned to cannabinoid therapy, giving her cannabis oil twice a day. Charlotte is now 8 years old and continues to thrive, with seizures happening only 2 to 3 times per month.
John Malanca, founder of United Patients Group commented “What Charlotte’s story did was give a worldwide platform to the truth behind the efficacy of medical cannabis for devastating conditions such as epilepsy. We are excited to lend our support and to help further enlighten the epilepsy community and others on the truth behind medical cannabis.”
During UPG’s Medical Cannabis Conference held in May of 2016, they featured a speaker who had a very personal experience with epilepsy, and braved the stigma and outright backlash to treat her two children – one with epilepsy and the other with autism. Rebecca Gonzalez is a mother who advocates strongly for medical marijuana and for the use of full plant cannabis extract for treating her children and others like them. Her story is can be seen in this interview we did with Rebecca following our conference here.
Continuing the fight for access to medical marijuana
To address the severe need for an effective epilepsy treatment, GW Pharmaceuticals is continuing their trials of Epidiolex. In 2015, the company launched their third round of trials that will test 150 patients during a period of 14 weeks in a Epidiolex vs placebo study. This is just another step in order to get approval from the FDA for the cannabidiol-based drug.
But with the Schedule I classification of cannabis still in place, this may be difficult. And parents such as Rebecca Gonzalez and others don’t have time to wait. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the ban on medicinal marijuana at the federal level is that, with so few studies, dosing and prescribing cannabis is not yet an exact science. Many families must undergo a trial and error process to discover the correct administration, strain, and dosage. And just like with traditional medication, each treatment must be tailored to each patient, since every patient is unique in their medical needs.
However, Bonni Goldstein, MD, who is the director of Canna-Centers and a UPG Advisory Board member, prescribes CBD to children with epilepsy and suggests that there is little to lose and much to gain when trying CBD. Unlike traditional pharmaceuticals, cannabis has fewer and less severe side-effects. She notes that cannabis can have side effects of drowsiness and fatigue, but that traditional epilepsy medications sometimes come with more severe symptoms such as liver failure, vomiting, etc. She even goes so far as to say that the side effects of CBD are less severe than those of epilepsy itself.
This week, United Patients Group, along with the Utah Association for Responsible Cannabis Legislation will host an evening of information, education and awareness for lawmakers, healthcare providers, public safety officials and others at the University of Utah to focus on the science of cannabinoid medicine and how its positive effects can improve the health of Utahans. Dr. Goldstein will be one of several featured speakers who will address how cannabis has had a profound and positive effect on treating patients who suffer from epilepsy among other chronic conditions such as Autism, Alzheimer’s and opioid addiction.
Celebrating National Epilepsy Awareness Month
As supporters of cannabis in the treatment of epilepsy and educators on the medical benefits of cannabis for various illnesses, we at United Patients Group are proud to participate in National Epilepsy Awareness Month. We will continue to battle epilepsy with knowledge, science, and support of the most effective treatments available.