Drug derived from cannabis could spell the end of seizures for children with epilepsy

Helen Cross

A drug derived from cannabis could have a life changing effect for thousands of people living with epilepsy, according to new research published today by Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).

A trial of 120 children conducted in Europe and the USA has shown that cannabidiol – derived from cannabis but with the psycho-active elements removed – reduces seizures by nearly 40% in children with a form of drug resistant epilepsy, known as Dravet syndrome. It also has the potential to provide relief to the thousands of children with other strains of epilepsy who live with debilitating seizures. 

Professor Helen Cross, Consultant in Paediatric Neurology at GOSH and joint lead author of the study, said: “The results of this study are significant and provide us with firm evidence of the effectiveness of cannabidiol. This drug could make a considerable difference to children who are living with Dravet syndrome and currently endure debilitating seizures.”

The study, Trial of Cannabidiol for Drug-Resistant seizures in the Dravet Syndrome, is published today in the New England Journal of Medicine

One hundred and twenty children with Dravet syndrome across Europe and the USA were given two daily doses of cannabidiol orally for fourteen weeks. At the end of the study the average number of severe seizures reduced by nearly 40%. For 5% of patients, seizures stopped completely.  

Dr Peter Steer, Chief Executive Officer, Great Ormond Street Hospital said: “The importance of this research cannot be under-estimated. It is the first time that a drug has been identified which can significantly reduce the risk of seizures for children living with the debilitating Dravet syndrome of epilepsy and is another mark of the commitment of Great Ormond Street Hospital and the UCL GOS Institute of Child Health to develop treatments that can transform the lives of children.”

GOSH led the study in partnership with New York University. The GOSH researchers also worked closely with colleagues at research partner, the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health. 

Dravet syndrome affects one in every 40,000 children in the UK. This is a rare form of epilepsy where, in addition to frequent epileptic seizures, children often experience behavioural problems and neurodevelopmental delay. This form of epilepsy is difficult to treat as seizures are resistant to of the majority of anti-epileptic drugs currently available.