Researchers in the UK have treated 10 children with intractable epilepsies with a range of whole-plant medicinal cannabis oils and found that seizure frequency reduced by 86% in a study published in BMJ Paediatrics Open.

The team evaluated the use of whole-plant medicinal cannabis in children whose severe epilepsy was not responding to conventional treatments, including two who hadn’t responded to Epidyolex — the only pharmaceutical grade purified CBD oil licensed for the condition in children. 

The aim was to assess the percentage change in monthly seizure frequency and the impact of medicinal cannabis on changes in conventional epilepsy drug use, as well as reporting the strengths, doses and costs incurred. 

The participants, aged one to 13 with an average age of six, had a range of epilepsies and were recruited through two charities representing children who use medicinal cannabis to treat severe epilepsy. 

Data was collected from parents or carers via telephone or video conference calls from January to May 2021. 

The children had tried an average of seven conventional epilepsy drugs, but after starting on medicinal cannabis this average fell to one each, with seven stopping them completely. 

Monthly seizure frequency reduced for all children by an overall 86%, with full chemical analysis of the whole-plant medicinal cannabis products used ongoing. 

The researchers also assessed the CBD and THC content, finding the children took an average of 5.15 mg THC and 171.8 mg CBD every day.

The average cost of the products was £874 with one child obtaining their prescription for free on the National Health Service (NHS). 

Parents and carers reported significant improvements in the health and wellbeing of their children including in sleep, eating, behaviour and cognition. Side effects such as tiredness were reported. 

While the observational study is small in size, it suggests whole-plant medicinal cannabis products may be more effective than CBD products for epilepsy. 

The authors conclude: “Further research is required to elucidate the mechanisms by which the respective additive constituents of whole-plant products lead to superior clinical results.

“We believe our data on whole-plant medical cannabis in childhood-onset severe treatment-resistant epilepsy provides evidence to support its introduction into the NHS within current National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence prescribing guidelines.”

Hannah Adler

Hannah is a communications professional and early-career researcher in the disciplines of health communication and health sociology. She is a PhD student at Griffith University currently writing a...