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CBD Proves Beneficial for Childhood Epilepsy in First Large-Scale Clinical Trial

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CBD was found to reduce the frequency of seizures by 39 percent in patients with Dravet syndrome in a recent clinical trial.

A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine has found the non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis – cannabidiol (CBD) – effectively reduces the frequency of seizures in patients with a rare, severe form of epilepsy. Led by renowned cannabis investigator and neurologist Dr. Orrin Devinsky, the team of researchers tested the efficacy of 14-weeks of CBD treatments on 120 young people ages two to 18 years with Dravet syndrome. The participants’ seizure frequency, which had been resistant to traditional medications, dropped by an average of 39 percent

“It’s a big landmark in the scientific study of cannabis, and it’s a major landmark in epilepsy care,” Devinsky said. “After four millennia of using cannabis to treat epilepsy, we now have for the first time scientifically rigorously obtained data that this specific compound works in this specific form of epilepsy.”

Dravet syndrome, also known as Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy of Infancy (SMEI), is a rare, but severe type of epilepsy that typically develops within the first year of life. The severity and high frequency of seizures often adversely affects the development of language and motor skills.

There is currently no FDA-approved treatment for Dravet syndrome. Previous studies have found CBD to be beneficial for seizures, but Devinsky’s study is the first randomized, controlled trial to demonstrate the cannabinoid’s efficacy. Brandy Fureman, vice president of research and new therapies at the Epilepsy Foundation, told CBS News that the new findings solidify CBD’s benefits.

“We now have strong evidence that CBD [cannabidiol] can be helpful for some people with Dravet Syndrome,” Fureman said. “This trial provides important information for doctors and families who are trying to decide if CBD should be tried in their child’s particular case, how it can be administered safely, and what side effects to watch for.”

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Participants were orally administered 20 milligrams of a liquid formulation of CBD, or a placebo, on top of their usual medication. Children receiving the CBD went from averaging 12 convulsive seizures per month to six. Three of the patients experienced complete seizure elimination with CBD.

More than 90 percent of participants did experience side effects, but they were generally categorized as mild to moderate. Twelve children withdrew from the trial – nine taking CBD and three from the placebo group. The most common side effects in those taking CBD were vomiting, fatigue and fever.

“Side effects are always an issue, but the drug was tolerated about as well as conventional anti-epileptic drugs,” said Dr. Samuel Berkovic, director of the University of Melbourne’s Epilepsy Research Center in Australia.

“Like other epilepsy medications, CBD appears to work for some people and not for others,” Fureman said. “Like other epilepsy treatments, there are side effects of CBD that should be considered.”

You can access the entire study,” Trial of Cannabidiol for Drug-Resistant Seizures in the Dravet Syndrome,” via The New England Journal of Medicine.

Learn more about what research has already discovered about CBD’s effects on Dravet syndrome and other types of epilepsy by visiting our education page. Keep up with the latest cannabis-related studies through our news feed.