Monday, 3 October 2016

World first trial of cannabis to treat epilepsy

Associate Professor Udaya Seneviratne
Monash researchers are studying the effects of cannabis on epilepsy patients in a world-first international clinical trial.

Monash Medical Centre is among other Victorian hospitals to participate in the large-scale, multicentre study. 

A common medical condition, epilepsy affects around 1 per cent of the population. 20-30 per cent of epilepsy patients continue to have seizures despite taking current antiepileptic medications, and ongoing seizures carry a risk of serious injuries, psycho-social and mental health problems and sudden death.

“Many centuries ago in China, cannabis was used as a medicinal agent to treat several ailments and in the early 1800s, western medicine started using it as a painkiller,” said Monash University’s Associate Professor Udaya Seneviratne.

“More recently, there has been resurgence in interest of the use of cannabis to treat epilepsy, chronic pain, spasticity, and nausea.”

“Some studies have highlighted dramatic improvement in seizure control with cannabis, in patients with uncontrolled epilepsy,” said Associate Professor Seneviratne, who is also Monash Health’s leading epileptologist.

Cannabis contains over 80 chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the most studied chemicals.

“THC has psychoactive properties producing a “high”, a property sought by recreational users, however, CBD has medicinal properties, and unlike THC, does not cause addiction,” said Associate Professor Seneviratne.

CBD has potent antiepileptic properties demonstrated in animal studies. Its value as an antiepileptic drug to control seizures has been shown in small studies in humans.

Associate Professor Seneviratne said patients with focal epilepsy who are still having seizures despite taking standard antiepileptic drugs are being selected to take part in the trial.  

“At the moment, we do not have sufficient evidence on efficacy and safety of cannabis to recommend it as an antiepileptic agent to treat epilepsy.”

“Both the medical community and patients are eagerly waiting for the results of this trial—it will be an important milestone in establishing the place of CBD as an antiepileptic drug, bringing hope to those living with epilepsy.”

In Victoria, Monash Medical Centre, Austin Hospital, Royal Melbourne Hospital and St. Vincent’s Hospital are involved in this clinical trial.

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