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expert reaction to case series of 10 children with severe treatment resistant epilepsy treated with medical cannabis

A case series published in BMJ Paediatrics Open looks at the use of medical cannabis for severe treatment resistant epilepsy in children.


Prof Cathy Abbott, Professor of Mammalian Molecular Genetics, University of Edinburgh, said:

“This is a small, preliminary (but nevertheless welcome) study reporting a reduction in seizure frequency in a cohort of 10 children affected by severe epilepsy. One significant caveat to the results, as acknowledged by the authors of the study, is that all patients were recruited through charities set up to promote the use of medicinal cannabis, so the families were essentially self-selecting.

“Mutations in any one of several hundred genes can cause severe childhood onset epilepsy and one hope for the future is that a precision medicine approach might be used (one targeted at the underlying genetic cause). In this study, the ten children had a range of underlying genetic conditions- this is both a strength and a weakness of the study, in that the group being studied was genetically very heterogeneous but also represented a range of genetic conditions. Since every one of the children showed a substantial reduction in seizure frequency when using medicinal cannabis this gives grounds for optimism that such treatment may be beneficial in a wide range of childhood-onset epilepsies. As the authors themselves note, it will be crucial to test this further with much bigger, genetically defined, cohorts of patients, but the current study is very important in making the potential benefits clear and leading a call to arms for inclusion of medicinal cannabis in NICE guidelines once more evidence is available. ”



‘Medical cannabis for severe treatment resistant epilepsy in children: a case series of 10 patients’ by Rayyan Zafar et al. was published in BMJ Paediatrics Open at 23:30 UK time on Tuesday 14th December.

DOI: 10.1136/bmjpo-2021-001234



Declared interests

Prof Cathy Abbott: I am the co-recipient of a Doctoral Training Centre grant from Epilepsy Research UK, and work in my lab is primarily funded by the Simons Foundation (via a grant to the University of Edinburgh) but there’s no link anywhere to drug companies or cannabis.


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