In the past few years the scientific community has been addressing the potential benefits of cannabinoids — compounds extracted from the cannabis plant — to treat several medical conditions, including seizure disorders. However, these compounds are still associated with controversies that are not only societal, but also involving contradictory results from research studies.
For its May issue, the scientific journal Epilepsy & Behavior published a special edition titled “Cannabinoids and Epilepsy” featuring 14 articles intended to present an in-depth assessment of the history, social impact, and pros and cons of medical use of cannabinoids for treatment of epilepsy.
“There is an enormous dissociation between the widespread use of cannabis-based therapies to treat diverse epilepsies and our understanding about the efficacy and safety of different cannabinoids in treating different epilepsy syndromes,” guest editors Jerzy Szaflarski, MD, PhD, director of the Epilepsy Center at University of Alabama, and Orrin Devinsky, MD, director of the Epilepsy Center of New York University Langone Medical Center, wrote in their introduction to this special issue.
For many centuries cannabis was used to treat seizures, although its medical use was prohibited in the 20th century. Since then patients and lay groups have been pressuring politicians to allow medicinal use of marijuana and its derivatives. This has led to changes in laws, and currently many patients in the United States have legal access to these products. Despite this evolution there is still a big gap in knowledge and medical education regarding this matter.
“We hope these articles help stimulate greater understanding and more importantly, stimulate more studies to scientifically define the potential benefits and harms of cannabis-based therapies for epilepsy,” Szaflarski and Devinsky wrote.
Focused on creating an “Education Roadmap,” this special issue aims to review this subject for general neurologists and epileptologists.
“This curriculum should address a rapidly changing scientific and regulatory landscape surrounding the medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids, which has impacted providers who have little or no formal education about medical use of cannabis and cannabinoids,” they added.
“Cannabinoids and Epilepsy” issue includes information not only on the biology and pharmacological potential of cannabinoids, but it also reports clinical trials and safety data on cannabinoid use for treatment of epilepsy. Clinical neuro-imaging data reflecting the potential effects on the brain of cannabinoid use also are explored.
In addition, Alice Mead, vice president and U.S. professional relations of GW Pharmaceuticals, provides an overview on cannabis and cannabidiol use from a legal perspective in the study “The legal status of cannabis (marijuana) and cannabidiol (CBD) under U.S. law.”
“I expect that over the next decade we shall see major advances both in the medical-scientific and the treatment aspects of epilepsy with the help of CBD [non-psychoactive cannabidiol] and related cannabinoids,” said Raphael Mechoulam, PhD, head of the School of Pharmacy and director or the Institute for Drug Research at Hebrew University, and author of one of the studies included in the special issue.
The full list of articles can be viewed here.