Researchers at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children are poised to begin a clinical trial using cannabis extracts to treat children with severe epilepsy whose seizures can’t be controlled with existing medications.
The trial is believed to be the first in Canada to test an oral preparation that contains both CBD and THC, compounds in marijuana that have been shown in the lab and through anecdotal reports to have anticonvulsant properties in children with treatment-resistant epilepsy.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of hundreds of active chemicals in the marijuana plant, many of them touted to have medicinal properties. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive ingredient that produces the “high” associated with pot.
While research has found CBD to be effective in reducing seizures, there has been no rigorous study that’s looked at the combination of CBD and THC, said pediatric neurologist Dr. Blathnaid McCoy, who will lead the clinical trial that begins early next year.
But finding a new therapy is critical: despite doctors having an arsenal of more than 40 anticonvulsant medications, 30 per cent of their patients with severe epilepsy are unable to get their seizures under control with any of the drugs.
“There are severe developmental, cognitive, behavioural, and motor delays that happen when children have uncontrolled epilepsy,” said Catherine Jacobson, director of clinical research at Tilray, a B.C.-based medicinal marijuana producer that will be providing the oral CBD-THC preparation for the clinical trial.
“It’s an absolutely devastating disease to live with,” said Jacobson, whose seven-year-old son has intractable epilepsy. “So the need to develop new medications that will control seizures in these children is very high.”
The Sick Kids study will enrol 20 children aged one to 18 with Dravet syndrome, a rare and debilitating form of epilepsy that begins in infancy. The condition, which is caused by a genetic mutation, accounts for about one per cent of all cases of epilepsy.
“It varies massively, but (children with) Dravet syndrome often have multiple seizures every day and they can have quite prolonged seizures,” said McCoy. “And in line with that, they also have a significant disruption in normal development, so they can have challenges with their mobility, with feeding difficulty, with interactions.