Successful stage III clinical trial for cannabidiol (CBD) treatment of epilepsy in children (New England Journal of Medicine, May 2017)
Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are the gold standard in clinical research, but this study design has been lacking in medicinal cannabis research until now. Scientists tested the effects of oral CBD (Epidolex from GW Pharmaceuticals) on seizure frequency in children with a type of epilepsy that cannot be managed with traditional anti-epileptic medications. CBD reduced the number of monthly seizures by 39% compared to 13% by the inactive placebo. This benefit was associated with only minimal side-effects. CBD’s ability to reduce seizures in this difficult-to-treat patient population adds further support for cannabis’ medicinal potential and strongly argues for the removal of its Schedule I classification.
A chronic low-dose of D9-THC reverses age-related cognitive decline (Nature Medicine, June 2017)
Most of the research on D9-THC, the chemical in cannabis responsible for the “high,” focuses on the negative impacts it has on the developing brain. But research published this spring suggests that it may have benefits in the aging brain. Old mice normally perform worse than younger mice on tests of learning and spatial memory, which partially results from the reduced function of the brain’s endocannabinoid system. Scientists tested whether enhancing the activity of the brain’s endocannabinoid system with repeated exposure to low amounts of D9-THC could improve learning and memory in old mice. They revealed that D9-THC-treated mice performed similarly to younger mice, indicating that chronic low-doses of D9-THC could improve brain function. Furthermore, these beneficial brain effects were associated with a shift in their gene expression pattern that more similarly reflected that of the younger cohort.
One of the greatest challenges of treating pain with prescription opioids is tolerance, where greater amounts of drug are needed to achieve pain relief. Tolerance leads to more drug use, and a possible transition to stronger opioids like heroin. States with legal medicinal cannabis access have fewer opioid-related overdoses, but it’s unclear if cannabis can substitute for opioids and if cannabis access actually reduces prescription opioid use, which could prevent tolerance. Survey data revealed that nearly 40% of pain patients substituted prescription opioids for cannabis. In a separate study, 84% of chronic pain patients with access to medicinal cannabis reduced the frequency of their opioid prescriptions compared to 41% in the comparison group. In both studies, treatment that included cannabis was associated with fewer side effects than opioids alone. These studies are positive indicators of cannabis’ benefits in pain treatment, where it could serve as either an alternative or supplementary approach to prescription opioid treatment.