Cannabis oil shows great promise for reducing seizures in severely epileptic children who have not responded to other forms of treatment, according to new research to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 67th Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

For the study, researchers evaluated 213 people with severe epilepsy, ranging in age from toddlers to adults, with a median age of 11.

Participants suffered from Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, two types of epilepsy that can lead to intellectual disability and lifelong seizures, as well as 10 other types of severe epilepsy. Up until this point, none of the participants had responded to other types of treatments.

The patients were given the drug cannabidiol, a component of cannabis that does not include the psychoactive part of the plant responsible for the “high.”

The drug is a liquid taken daily by mouth. All participants knew they were receiving the drug in the open-label study, which was designed to determine whether the drug was safe and well-tolerated.

Researchers measured the number of seizures that patients experienced while taking the drug. Of the 137 patients who completed the 12-week study, the number of seizures decreased by an average of 54 percent over the course of the study.

Of the 23 participants with Dravet syndrome who completed the study, the number of convulsive seizures had gone down by 53 percent by the end of the time period. Of the 11 people with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome who finished the study, there was a 55 percent reduction in the number of atonic seizures, which result in a sudden loss of muscle tone.

Twelve participants, or 6 percent, stopped taking the drug due to side effects. Side effects that occurred in more than 10 percent of participants included drowsiness (21 percent), diarrhea (17 percent), tiredness (17 percent), and decreased appetite (16 percent).

The researchers note that these are early findings and that larger, placebo-controlled, double-blind trials are needed to measure the effectiveness of the drug.

“So far there have been few formal studies on this marijuana extract,” said study author Orrin Devinsky, M.D., of New York University Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

“These results are of great interest, especially for the children and their parents who have been searching for an answer for these debilitating seizures.”

The study was supported by GW Pharmaceuticals.

Source: American Academy of Neurology