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Medical cannabis for severe treatment resistant epilepsy in children: a case series of 10 patients

a child hanging onto her teddy


Rayyan Zafar, Anne Schlag, Lawrence Phillips, David J Nutt


December 15, 2021

We previously reported on the legalisation of medical cannabis in the UK which was catalysed by a young boy, Alfie Dingley, suffering from a rare form of epilepsy that was treatable through medical cannabis. Alfie’s case was put centre and forward of a campaign in 2018 to reschedule cannabis and permit access to individuals who were benefitting from this medication.

A recent poll found over 1.4 million individuals in the UK to be using cannabis for medical reasons and some of these include children, who suffer from severe and treatment resistant epilepsies meaning they do not respond to conventional anti-epileptic medication. A group of these families provided us with access to their medical records and data so that we could assess the impact that medical cannabis was having on their conditions.

All the children in our study were using whole-plant medical cannabis. This means that the oils were extracted directly from the plant and were not synthetic/isolated compounds. We know that cannabis plants have a myriad of chemicals in them with over 400 different cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids. This type of medication is unlicensed which means that medical and regulatory bodies have not approved it for use in a specific indication, BUT doctors in the UK are allowed to prescribe these if they see it as being clinically effective and safe. The only cannabis-based medicine that is licensed for use is an isolated cannabidiol product called Epidyolex which all the children had not respond as well to.

In our second cohort of ten children (results of our first cohort can be found here) on whole-plant medical cannabis we found an 86% reduction in seizures following initiation of medical cannabis which was paired with a reduction in the use of anti-epileptic drugs. These children got their lives back and their families got their children back. In spite of these remarkable findings there has been a continuing impasse from the medical establishment in reviewing data from such observational research and to date there have only been 3 NHS prescriptions for whole plant cannabis made available on the NHS.

We believe that our data on the impact of medical cannabis in childhood-onset severe treatment-resistant epilepsy, provides evidence to encourage its introduction into the NHS within current NICE prescribing guidelines. Such a move would be hugely beneficial to the families, who in addition to having the psychological distress of looking after their chronically ill children, have also to cover the crippling financial burden of their medication.

For open-access to the full report of this research, see below:

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