University of Saskatchewan Neurologist Investigates Whether Cannabis Oil Can Treat Epilepsy

Article by Saskatoon StarPhoenix

'These are desperate parents': Can cannabis really treat epilepsy?

Dr. Richard Huntsman, a pediatric neurologist at the University of Saskatchewan, is leading a nationwide study on the potential benefits of cannabis oil for children with epilepsy. Parents are learning about cannabis through social media and parent support groups, and turning to it when conventional treatments fail. But as Huntsman told reporter Jonathan Charlton, there’s no proof it actually works — yet.

Q: Does the information floating around online concern you, given that it doesn’t have a scientific backing?

A: I think that’s what made us want to do the study. I think as physicians and scientists, we can choose to either have a good look at this and look at it scientifically, or we can stick our heads in the sand and ignore it. But keep in mind that these are desperate parents. Their kids are having 50, 60, 100 seizures a day. Their kids are regressing developmentally; they try every medication, they’ve tried all the treatments without help. So they’re turning to this and I think we need to answer it.

In part yes, it does worry me, what’s going on, because a lot of parents are turning maybe to suppliers where the quality of the products isn’t very good, or they’re making their own products, their own oils at home and God knows what they’re getting.

Q: If there seem to be these benefits, at least anecdotally, what do you think is happening? How would the cannabis actually be affecting the brain?

A: That’s a million dollar question. There is so much about cannabis we don’t know. I used to think of cannabis as just THC and cannabid oil — but actually it’s an incredibly complex plant. It has 80 different cannabinoids which are potentially neurologically active, and we really only have an understanding of two of them — a minor understanding of what two of them do.

So far the literature and what we’re hearing is that cannabid oil specifically is effective in treating epilepsy. How that works, there’s a lot to be found out. There are some theories that there are certain receptors in nerve cells that it can interact with, but once again we don’t have a lot of good scientific evidence.

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