Medicinal Cannabis

Medicinal Cannabis

In Australia approximately 25,000 people are diagnosed with epilepsy each year affecting up to 240,000 adults and children at any given time. Characterised by recurrent seizures, epilepsy is an umbrella term that covers multiple disorders and causes ranging from genetic syndromes, strokes, infections and traumatic brain injuries.

Paediatric Neurologist Orrin Devinsky, from Comprehensive Epilepsy Centre New York University, explains that ‘while many drugs can limit seizures, no drugs can prevent underlying cause of epilepsy or the development of epilepsy’. With just over a third of people failing to find an antiepileptic medication (AED) to control their seizure activity or finding the medications intolerable due to side effects, many people live with the impact of poor seizure control on their everyday lives and that of their families.

Many families, having exhausted all conventional treatment options, tentatively embarked on a journey with cannabis based products to ease their child’s suffering in the time they had left. As a result some children experienced seizure freedom for the first time in their lives, while other families tell of their child reaching milestones no one ever thought possible.

Despite more than 2000 years of historical use up until the early 1900’s prohibition of cannabis, today we have limited case studies and reports from families of their experiences of using various strains of cannabis oils and tinctures in people with epilepsy.

As prohibition is lifted in some jurisdictions and funding for research becomes available, there is an emerging improvement in the understanding of the cannabis plant and its pharmacology. Animal studies are showing therapeutic potential with a few clinical studies in humans showing similar results. What is needed to provide sufficient evidence to bring medicinal cannabis into mainstream medicine in a form acceptable to patients and doctors, is randomised human clinical studies not only on single compounds but full spectrum extracts for the entourage effects to be studied. Cannabinoids are complex molecules that affect many different physiological processes. They have different effects depending upon the concentration in the tissue and how they interact with each other.

Currently there are a range of cannabis based products in use, both legal and illicit, in Australia ranging from unregulated artisan cannabis-based products, nutraceutical products imported from the international market, and pharmaceutical grade medicines.

To access detailed information about the endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids, cannabis based medicines, the therapeutic use of cannabis in epilepsy, educational videos, books and links to Australian and International patient and advocacy groups contact Epilepsy Action Australia to request MyEpilepsyKey (TM), a USB device that links to an exclusive website with the latest information and resources about medicinal use of cannabis.

Epilepsy Action Australia also publishes regular email updates MedCann on the progress of all aspects of medicinal cannabis use in epilepsy in Australia. Register here to receive these updates.

If you are seeking information about Medicinal Cannabis prescribing, access and supply in Australia follow the link to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) Q&A for consumers here.