The drug’s ability to reduce seizures in some children has softened opposition to research and may someday lead to changes in government policies.
Photo: Holli Brown comforts her daughter, Sydni Yunek, who is having a seizure at a medical marijuana support group picnic in Colorado, while Sara Lightle and her daughter, Madeline, stand by. Both mothers moved to the state, where recreational and medical marijuana are legal, to have access to cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive drug extracted from marijuana that can reduce or prevent seizures in some children.
Photohgraph by Lynn Johnson, National Geographic
For years, opponents of legalizing medical marijuana have built their case on the most powerful of political maxims: Think about the children. But today it’s the suffering of children that might eventually compel the federal government to relax its stance.
Thousands of kids across the United States are afflicted with Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, rare forms of childhood-onset epilepsy that can cause dozens, even hundreds, of severe seizures each day. Conventional drugs have been ineffective.
Last year, however, the FDA approved a clinical trial of Epidiolex, a drug made from cannabidiol (CBD)—one of 85 active chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, in marijuana. The initial findings were promising. After 12 weeks of treatment, 54 percent of patients experienced fewer seizures and 9 percent saw their seizures cease. The trial has already moved to a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. (Read about the new science of marijuana.)
In addition, scientists are stepping up lab research to better understand the mechanisms of CBD, which, unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is not psychoactive. Joseph Sullivan, the director of the University of California Pediatric Epilepsy Center in San Francisco, who was also one of the investigators in the Epidiolex study, says that one of the most significant developments driving this research is that the medical community is no longer lumping cannabinoids together.