According to new research from Aston University, cannabidiol (CBD) could be used to treat epilepsy in children.
The researchers found that CBD, the non-psychoactive component of cannabis, can reduce epileptic seizures in children with treatment-resistant forms of the condition.
The Aston University team collaborated with researchers from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine on the paper titled ‘Cannabidiol modulates excitatory-inhibitory ratio to counter hippocampal hyperactivity’, which has been published in the journal Neuron.
There are around 60,000 cases of epilepsy in children in the UK, and the condition can begin at any age. Epilepsy affects children in the same way as adults; however, seizures may be more common in childhood. Epilepsy can be caused by brain injury bought on by trauma, difficulties at birth or infections such as meningitis. However, some researchers believe the condition is always caused by genetic factors.
CBD can block the seizure-causing signals in the brain
The researchers found that CBD could block signals emitted by lysophosphatidylinositol (LPI) molecules. They believe that LPI amplifies nerve function in the brain that causes epileptic seizures. The study builds on previous research showing that CBD can stop LPI from amplifying nerve signals in the hippocampus.
However, the researchers argue that LPI molecules can also weaken signals in the brain that are meant to counter seizures. They used a leading model of epilepsy, developed by Professor Gavin Woodhall, to record electrical signals in the brains of epileptic rodents, some of which were treated with CBD. This allowed the researchers to identify the precise molecular mechanisms that were halted by CBD and better understand how it may be able to treat epilepsy in children.
“These new insights into epilepsy and the mechanism by which CBD works to stop seizures is the fruit of years of collaboration between neuroscientists in the UK and the USA and our industry partner, GW Pharma. We are hopeful that it will lead to even better treatments in future,” said Professor Woodhall, who is co-director of Aston Institute for Health and Neurodevelopment.
The debate around using CBD to treat epilepsy in children
There is an ongoing debate around using CBD as a treatment option, not just for epilepsy in children but in wider healthcare in the UK. Doctors in the UK have been reluctant to prescribe CBD to children with epilepsy due to a lack of confirmatory clinical trial data as a valid source of evidence.
As well as this, other researchers in the UK have argued that whole-plant medicinal cannabis products are superior to CBD products in treating epilepsy in children. A paper produced by researchers at Imperial College London (ICL) reported that epileptic seizure frequency fell by an average of 86% in a trial of ten children treated with whole-plant medicinal cannabis. The ICL researchers also reported that no children in their study reacted to CBD-based therapies.