A new medication derived from cannabis could help reduce seizures in children suffering from severe epilepsy, researchers have found.
Doctors in the UK have now been given the go-ahead to trial the drug, called Epidiolex, for the first time after promising studies carried out in the US.
The treatment does not contain the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis which causes the associated ‘high’, and early trials found that it can reduce both the frequency and severity of seizures in children.
The trial, which is enrolling patients now, will be held at both the The University of Edinburgh’s Muir Maxwell Epilepsy Centre and Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Director of the Muir Maxwell Epilepsy Centre, Dr Richard Maxwell, said the trials would only involve children who do not respond to existing medication, and will include control groups given a placebo.
The initial focus of the study will be on children with Dravet Syndrome, a rare and serious form of epilepsy which usually takes hold in the first year of life.
It causes prolonged seizures which then develop into other seizure types, hampering normal development. In some cases, it can even be fatal.
A second phase will then focus on children with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. Epidiolex, which is based on a non-psychoactive cannabis component known as CBD, has been developed by the British biotechnology company GW Pharmaceuticals, which is sponsoring and funding the trial.
The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool are also driving the study, while there are further centres in the US, France and Poland.
Around 40,000 children in the UK have been diagnosed with epilepsy.