Recently, there has been a lot of news about the use of a portion of the marijuana plant as a treatment for epilepsy. Some patients and their families have reported that this oil, referred to as “Charlotte’s Web,” has been beneficial for children with hard-to-control epilepsy. But that’s not the end of the story.
The Devil is in the Details
Most of the children that have been featured in the news have a rare type of genetic epilepsy called Dravet syndrome. Based on these reports, it appears that this marijuana-based oil has helped these few children. However, there has been no mention of any child that has not gained benefit — and with any form of treatment; some people will not respond as well as others. Our concern is that this and similar products have not been studied adequately to determine which children would benefit most and what dose is actually safe for children. There may be a lot of risks associated with using these types of treatments, since there is so much unknown. A medication made from a portion of the marijuana plant may be a good treatment for children with epilepsy in the future, but we need more research about this and similar products.
Furthermore, marijuana products are not legal to give or prescribe to children in the state of Ohio. At this time, the neurology providers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital cannot legally endorse or assist with the use of any marijuana-derived product.
Marijuana-Based Epilepsy Drugs
For years, those of us in the epilepsy field have kept an eye on similar compounds and chemicals found in the marijuana plant, hoping to find a potential therapy. It is possible that a certain chemical, called cannabidiol (CBD) may be helpful in reducing seizures for those who meet certain criteria. However, it appears that other portions of the marijuana plant may either not be helpful or may even trigger seizures.
But here’s another problem: Even if companies market that their product or oil has only CBD, these products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means there is no way to be certain of the exact contents of the product being sold.
Currently, a company in London, England is working on the development of a medication that is 98% CBD, which would be the purest form available. They plan on pursuing clinical trials and rigorous scientific research to determine if the medication is safe and effective in treating children with epilepsy.
Until there is an FDA-approved form of CBD, the oil should not be used to treat childhood epilepsy informally. Although FDA-approved medications and treatments do not always work for everyone, it is important to know that these medications go through extensive testing to prove that they work and are safe to take to treat seizures.
Unfortunately, there is no “magic bullet” for treating epilepsy. While we recognize that difficult-to-control seizures are stressful, it is very important to think of all these issues before thinking about giving a marijuana product to your child. We encourage you to work together with your child’s neurology provider to make sure your child is being treated as safely and effectively as possible.
Anup Patel, MD, works as an attending physician in the Epilepsy Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital. He has a focus on medical management of complicated epilepsy.
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