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Cannabinoids in Epilepsy at DFTB17


John Lawson is a paediatric neurologist at Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick. He has been Lead Investigator in the NSW Medical Cannabis in Epilepsy trial and is one of Australia’s leading experts on its use in near-intractable seizures.

This is an almost evidence-free zone as the popular press has taken up the fight on behalf of patients.

So what are doctors to do when parents come to them asking them to prescribe cannabis to their one-year-old child? This is not a talk about the wholesale legalisation of marijuana but about how, once again, we must take a closer look at the evidence.

This double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial reported in last year’s NEJM sets the scene for the potential beneficial effects of cannabidiol.

Go ahead and watch the talk…

Unveiling the Potential of Cannabinoids in Epilepsy Management

Epilepsy, a complex neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures, presents a formidable challenge for patients and medical professionals. While traditional antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) have demonstrated efficacy, the emergence of cannabinoids as a potential therapeutic option has ignited curiosity within the medical community.

Understanding Epilepsy and the Current Therapeutic Landscape

Before exploring cannabinoids, a comprehensive grasp of epilepsy and its existing treatment modalities is needed. Epileptic seizures arise from abnormal electrical activity in the brain, resulting in diverse symptoms and severity levels. Although AEDs have served as the cornerstone of treatment, their limitations in terms of side effects and inadequate efficacy have spurred the quest for alternative interventions.

Unravelling the Potential of Cannabinoids

Within this intricate backdrop, cannabinoids, the natural compounds in the Cannabis plant, have gained attention for their potential therapeutic applications. Notably, cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have garnered significant interest due to their intriguing properties.

Mechanisms of Action: Decoding Cannabinoid-Neuronal Interplay

Delving into the heart of the matter, Lawson illuminated the intricate mechanisms through which cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system, impacting neuronal activity. Cannabinoids modulate neurotransmitter release, temper inflammation, and influence ion channels – all of which could contribute to the regulation of seizures.

Navigating the Landscape of Research

While initial studies and anecdotal accounts offer glimpses of cannabinoids’ potential in epilepsy, Lawson underscored the indispensable role of meticulously designed clinical trials. To establish the safety and efficacy of cannabinoids as adjunctive treatments, rigorous placebo-controlled studies are imperative, serving as the foundation upon which further advancements can be built.

Embracing Individualized Treatment

One size does not fit all in the realm of cannabinoids. Lawson emphasized the necessity of tailoring cannabinoid ratios and dosages to suit each patient’s unique needs. Customization, guided by comprehensive patient assessment, facilitates optimized outcomes while minimizing potential adverse effects.

Balancing Benefits and Risks

Potential side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, and interactions with concurrent medications. A vigilant approach to patient evaluation and monitoring is indispensable to ensure the judicious and safe integration of cannabinoid-based treatments.

Navigating the Regulatory Landscape

Lawson also shed light on the evolving legal and regulatory landscape surrounding cannabinoids. Abiding by local regulations and ethical guidelines is paramount, ensuring that any exploration of cannabinoid-based treatments remains within established boundaries.

The tantalizing promise of cannabinoids in epilepsy management beckons, yet John Lawson calls for a measured and cautious approach. The infusion of scientific rigour, epitomized by well-structured clinical trials, is the cornerstone for validating cannabinoids’ safety and efficacy with conventional therapies.

The landscape of epilepsy management continues to evolve, with cannabinoids as a promising frontier.

You can read this latest paper, a narrative review of some of the challenges facing the use of medical cannabis, in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Chen KA, Farrar MA, Cardamone M, Lawson JA. Cannabis for paediatric epilepsy: challenges and conundrums. The Medical Journal of Australia. 2018 Feb 19;208(3):132-6.



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