THC, Not Just CBD, Can Treat Pediatric Epilepsy
Cannabidiol (CBD), is the most well-known compound in cannabis when it comes to the treatment of epilepsy and seizures, even in children.
But new studies have shined light on the role of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that gives a high, in treating pediatric epilepsy.
A study conducted by researchers from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto assessed 20 children who Dravet Syndrome, a form of drug-resistant epilepsy (DRE) which can cause as much as a thousand seizures a month. They were each administered with an experimental cannabis oil treatment with a 50:1 ratio of CBD:THC.
The medicine, which was a donation from Canadian cannabis manufacturer Tilray, was given in gradually increasing doses over the course of several weeks. According to one of the lead researchers, neurologist Dr. Blathnaid McCoy, the findings were promising.
“We observed promising clinically beneficial effects including a reduction in seizure frequency and improvements in certain aspects of adaptive functioning and quality of life measures,” McCoy said in a release. They found that the higher the dose, the more effective it was. “In the participants who reached the target treatment dose we saw a statistically significant reduction in motor seizures, and an increase in seizure-free days compared to those who did not reach the target dose,” says McCoy.
Caregivers also reported improvements in the children’s’ quality of life, especially when it came to loss of appetite, sleepiness, and diarrhea.
Although some THC in cannabis oil may even work better than CBD-only medications, as revealed in certain studies, there are concerns about how children would react to the psychoactive effects of THC.
McCoy adds that the study contributes “to a growing body of evidence that cannabinoids can exert anti-seizure effects and are safe and tolerable in treating DRE.”
Another study, this time from Australia, echoes the findings of the Canadian study.
Researchers from the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics found that 75% of parents who have epileptic children and used cannabis-based medicines, albeit unapproved, reported reductions in their kids’ seizures. They also noted additional benefits including improved language and cognitive abilities.
Interestingly, the extracts used by the parents only had a little CBD, says Iain McGregor, the Lambert Initiative’s academic director and an author of the study.
“Although the illicit extracts we analyzed 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,” said McGregor. “And despite the overwhelming presence of generally low levels of THC, concentrations did not differ between samples perceived as ‘effective’ and ‘ineffective’.”
McGregor says that the most effective medications for epilepsy may actually need more than just CBD, THC, or even both. “Our research indicates that 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.”
THC Is Worth Looking Into As Seizure Treatment
THC has always been excluded from being included in epilepsy treatments because of its psychoactive properties, and its effects on children are not understood at all. Naturally, people are still afraid that this may cause harm on children.
But THC has been shown to be an anticonvulsant and can actually complement other anti-seizure medications. Which is why some scientists recommend adding a small amount of THC to achieve maximum reduction in seizures.
In one study, findings revealed that using a preparation containing 20:1 CBD:THC resulted in a significant reduction in seizures. Because of this, some are already advocating for regulations that would allow not just CBD but THC as well for treating epilepsy.
Jason David and Brian Wilson are parents of children who suffer from severe forms of epilepsy. In a 2014 interview, they revealed that excluding THC from epilepsy treatment could hinder the benefits of the plant. Wilson said, “CBD is a very important part of the mix, but only part. We saw minor seizure control and developmental progress with CBD alone, but we didn’t see real seizure control until we added measurable levels of THC to the mix.”
“Low THC/high CBD doesn’t work for everyone, just like pharmaceutical medications, it’s not one size fits all,” adds David.