UAB research shows cannabis-based product can help with epilepsy

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New research from UAB shows that a cannabis-based product can help patients with epilepsy.

Researchers studied the impact that cannabidiol, or CBD oil, can have on epileptic patients for whom other medicine has been ineffective. The study featured 132 patients from Alabama who were still having seizures despite trying at least four other medicines. Some had even tried surgery or medical devices. Researchers say that using CBD oil gave about half of the participants a 50-percent reduction in their frequency of seizures over the 48-week span of the study. A few became seizure free.

“It’s opened a big door. I think there’s been a lot of people that have said that it works and it’s a great thing, but there never had been really hard science to back that up,” said UAB assistant professor Dr. Tyler Gaston, a co-investigator on the study. “It does show that this particular product does have efficacy against epilepsy.”

But it’s not a miracle drug, Gaston added. She says it’s effectiveness at fighting seizures is similar to that of other seizure drugs that are coming onto the market. So it’s a good option for people who have had no luck with other medicines.

But the research is a victory for Dustin Chandler, who led the push for this type of research in 2013. Chandler’s daughter, Carly, had been suffering from violent seizures. He went online and found a documentary that suggested CBD oil might help patients with epilepsy. So he began pushing state leaders to open the door for studies on CBD oil. That led to the passage of Carley’s Law, which paved the way for research to be done. Five years later, UAB’s research confirmed the benefits the product can have.

“We just really wanted to find some hope,” Chandler said. “And that’s what it was all about to start with is a little bit of hope. And I always said and the very beginning that if it helps one child or one adult or one human being, then it would be worth what it was going to take to try to get something done in Alabama.”

UAB researched a specific type of CBD oil, known now as Epidiolex. The research played a role in the FDA’s decision in June to approve the drug for use in treating two types of epilepsy. Researchers say it likely won’t be available for use for at least another several months.

Chandler hopes UAB’s study is the first of many on the medical benefits of cannabis-based products.

“I want the medical community to feel free that they can research this thing – research the plant and find more uses for it,” he said. “And in the public, you know, don’t see cannabis as – I mean, it can have a good side and bad side, just like anything else.”

Gaston says it’s possible CBD oil could have other medical uses, but more research needs to be done.

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