The use of cannabis-based medicinal products to treat epilepsy

We recognise that there has been a lot of publicity about the use of cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) to treat childhood epilepsy. As very few clinical trials have taken place to evaluate the potential  benefits and risks of using these products, there are only a few circumstances where they can be prescribed.

The evidence that CBMPs are effective for children and young people with epilepsy

At Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), we have led and participated in two international clinical trials looking at the use of cannabidiol, a drug derived from cannabis for children living with two specific forms of epilepsy, Dravet Syndrome and Lennox Gastaut Syndrome.

The results were extremely positive. The derivative, which has the psycho-active elements removed, reduced seizures by nearly 40 per cent in children with Dravet syndrome when compared with a dummy drug. Lennox Gastaut syndrome is characterised by particularly disabling seizures ‘drop attacks’ that impact quality of life; these seizures were significantly reduced by the drug.

The trials took place under strictly controlled circumstances, using the specific formulation pharmaceutically prepared.

To read more about the research carried out at GOSH please explore the following pages

Prescribing cannabidiols on the NHS for children living with Dravet Syndrome and Lennox Gastaut Syndrome.

This treatment is not available on the NHS. Currently the trial results have been submitted for assessment by the regulatory bodies, the FDA (USA) and EMA (Europe), to consider whether a licence should be issued. The FDA has approved this in the USA, we await the evaluation by the EMA. We welcome this process which could pave the way for patient prescription.

Under what circumstances can CBMPs be prescribed?

Currently at Great Ormond Street only children and young people who are participating in clinical trials can have CBMPs prescribed.

The safety of commercial cannabis products

The only clinical trials that have taken place are with products with the pyscho-active elements removed and looked at the treatment of two rare forms of epilepsy.

There is no evidence of benefit or risk for cannabis/hemp oils available for purchase. Moreover, these products often state that they contain acceptable and very low doses of the psycho-active element (Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) but as they are not produced to a pharmaceutical standard it has been demonstrated even different batches of the same product have variable content.

Prescribing commercial cannabis products  

There are no products available on the NHS. Also as there is no evidence relating to dose, safety or interaction with other products, doctors cannot within their code of practice prescribe such products.

For further information

We would ask any patients or their families wishing to explore using these products to talk to their GP, hospital or contact the national charity Young Epilepsy.