A PBS Report on Cannabis treatment for Pediatric Epilepsy and a Call for More Science

Science correspondent Miles O’Brien reports from the home of Lenny and Amy Lopez and brings us the story of their 5-year-old son, Isiais. He has Dravet’s syndrome, a genetic form of pediatric epilepsy, causing up to hundreds of seizures daily. When conventional medications caused terrible side effects, Lenny and Amy started giving Isiais a daily dose of cannabis oil, with dramatic and positive results.

Their doctor, Dr. Elizabeth Thiele, is director of the pediatric epilepsy program at Massachusetts General Hospital. She said, “When this first came up, I think that there were a lot of — I sometimes use the word “haters,” as the medical profession, I think, wasn’t necessarily welcoming this at first.”

While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that cannabis helps children with Dravet’s, the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana among the most dangerous drugs, a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

Miles O’brien reports: “As far as the federal government is concerned, cannabis has no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. As a result, scientists have trouble accessing the drug legally to do the research, and so we know precious little about the medicinal value of marijuana to treat epilepsy, or anything else.

That’s starting to change. The British pharmaceutical company GW is testing a version of cannabis oil called Epidiolex. Designed for children with seizure disorders, it is nearly pure CBD. It’s early, but the results are promising. If they can be repeated in larger studies, Dr. Thiele says it could be a breakthrough. “Sometimes, the batch will be effective, will make the seizures better. Sometimes, the next month, it will be worse, the seizures will get worse. So, I don’t feel comfortable prescribing something that I don’t understand better than that.”

A profound dilemma many doctor’s face in the absence of objective science. Kevin McKernan is the chief scientific officer. He hopes to inject some objective science into the conversation. He said, “It’s about as scientific as a wine, oaky, woody, earthy. And if we want medicine to absorb this, we need to start talking about the cannabis in the language that physicians like, which is about genotypes, not woody, earthy, oaky smells.”

It’s a nine minute clip – worth the watch.

 

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