Cannabis and Epilepsy

Liz Filmer
22 Dec 2022

Epilepsy is a brain condition that induces recurring, unprovoked seizures. The word "epilepsy" means "seizure disorder." It does not tell us anything about the cause of the person's seizures or their severity. Currently, only one cannabis-based medicine is approved for treating epilepsy in the UK. This medication is called Epidyolex, and it contains pure CBD.

Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

(NICE) The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends what medications can be prescribed on the NHS. A combination of Epidyolex and another epilepsy medicine Clobazam is recommended for adults or children aged two or over,

People with Dravet syndrome who cannot control their seizures after trying two or more epilepsy medicines

People with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome whose seizures are not controlled following two or more epilepsy medicines.

There is some evidence that Epidyolex may work for other types of epilepsy. It may be prescribed for those with different kinds of epilepsy, but only on a case-by-case basis and in exceptional circumstances where other treatments have not worked. Still, more evidence is needed before experts decide on its general application.

NICE has called for more research into CBD medicines for other forms of treatment-resistant epilepsies. Therefore some people might be able to access Epidyolex by participating in clinical trials. 

What about THC?

Some UK children with severe epilepsy have SEEN success in treating their conditions with THC and CBD medicines. Limited evidence suggests these medicines may be effective, but the research is little and low quality.

NICE has, so far, not recommended prescribing medicines containing CBD and THC. Specialists can legally prescribe them, but this would be strictly case-by-case.

Prescribing practitioners need to show no licensed medicines that are otherwise suitable. They would also need permission from the NHS in their area and would need to agree to fund it.

NICE has requested more research into CBD and THC medicines, and some people may be able to gain access to these medicines by taking part in clinical trials. 

What About CBD sold in Health Shops?

CBD products sold over the counter are not licensed as medicines, and there is no guarantee of their quality. The concentration of CBD can vary drastically, even between batches of the same product. 

Companies manufacturing these products cannot make any medicinal claims about their products, and they do not need to meet the exact requirement standards as medicines.

CBD products could affect the effectiveness of your or your child's epilepsy medicines. You could be putting yourself at risk of more frequent or severe seizures. Do not stop taking your epilepsy medicine unless your doctor instructs you to.

Epilepsy campaigners want to remove the barriers preventing sufferers from accessing cannabis-based medicines in the NHS. There are also campaigns for research into products containing THC and CBD and investigations into whether Epidyolex could benefit people affected by other forms of epilepsy. 

Liz Filmer