Epilepsy affects 1% of the world’s population. It’s twice as common among children. The incidence rate is 700 cases per 100,000 children.
My niece belongs to the 1%, so I can tell you that the burden on the immediate family is huge. And it becomes much greater if the prescribed medications don’t work.
What’s truly terrifying is about 30% of people with epilepsy do NOT respond to conventional medications.
So what happens then?
They try other medications. And if those don’t work, they try more. But here’s the thing…
A person’s chances of responding to a medication once the first two fail is less than 4%. It’s a terrible situation for parents. There’s little they can do. But it doesn’t stop them from trying and experiencing heartbreaking frustration.
But now there is hope.
A growing body of medical research indicates epilepsy is rooted in the dysfunction of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
My First Stage Investor Co-Founder, Adam, just wrote an excellent piece on the ECS in the most recent issue of First Stage Investor. The ECS is a key part of our nervous system that regulates our immune system, metabolism, mood, hunger, sleep, pain and more.
Scientists have discovered 113 unique cannabinoids in cannabis that interact with our ECS in different ways. Some can be used to treat epilepsy. This discovery and a growing amount of clinical and anecdotal evidence in this country are giving hope that cannabis can greatly reduce the symptoms of epilepsy.
Some of the strongest advocates for the legalization of medical cannabis are the mothers of epileptic children. Many children who tried medical cannabis experienced a dramatic reduction in symptoms. Adam and I heard their powerful stories this week at the Cannabis Science Conference. (Adam just wrote about these mothers. If you missed it, it’s well worth reading.)
And thanks to government research restrictions, only one prescription CBD drug has been approved to treat Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome – rare and serious forms of epilepsy.
It’s criminal that this is all we have in America. One drug and the sad, courageous and sometimes triumphant stories of mothers who, against all odds, were able to procure cannabis-based medications for their ailing children and then witness a miraculous recovery.
In this country, because cannabis is not legal at the federal level, it’s almost impossible to conduct serious scientific research. But other countries can and do. And their research is reinforcing the anecdotal evidence we’ve seen here.
One interesting study from Israel shows that, with a cannabis treatment that ranged from three to 12 months, 89% of epilepsy patients reported a reduction of seizures. More than half of the patients reported reductions of 50% to 100%, with one patient becoming seizure-free.
In an observational study in this country of 104 epilepsy patients, 39% experienced a greater than 50% reduction of seizures, with 10% becoming seizure-free.
A combined study of 272 patients from Washington and California found that more than a quarter of patients reported a 75% or more reduction of seizures, with 10% reporting they were seizure-free.
These studies indicate that medical cannabis can be an effective alternative to conventional medications offered by big pharmaceutical companies. Much more rigorous research is needed, though. The studies in this country don’t even include such basic components as placebo groups.
As more states legalize medical cannabis and come to understand the potential of cannabis’s vast medical benefits, it will become easier to conduct thorough research. But it will take time.
So I’ll take my hopeful signs where I can. Even in the difficult environment of this country, there’s enough evidence of medical cannabis’s effectiveness in fighting epilepsy (and other illnesses) that doctors and politicians can no longer simply dismiss it out of hand.
It’s a significant step in the right direction.
Invest early and well,
Co-Founder, First Stage Investor