For the first time, the EU has approved the use of a medicinal cannabis product intended for patients with two rare, but severe, types of childhood epilepsy. Doctors can now prescribe Epidyolex, an oral solution of cannabidiol derived from the cannabis plant, if they opine it will help sufferers.
Epidyolex has been permitted for use in the UK and other European countries, but the NHS does not presently recommend it. But some parents want substitutes that contain a component not present in this drug.
Last month, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence of the United Kingdom made an initial decision not to endorse prescribing Epidyolex, citing lack of evidence of long-term effectiveness. Final guidance is expected later this year.
Epidyolex is the approved treatment possibility for children as young as two sufferings with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome, both include difficult-to-treat conditions that can cause multiple seizures a day. Developed by GW Pharmaceuticals, the medication will be used in combination with another epilepsy medicine called clobazam.
Epidyolex does not comprise any of the psychoactive component of cannabis namely a compound called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Some parents who traveled to the Netherlands to buy cannabis medicines for their young patients contend that this treatment will not aid many children as it does not contain THC, which in their opinion has helped their children.
Other Medical Cannabis Products
There are several different medical cannabis products. The use of the products containing THC was legalized across the UK in November 2018 but they can be prescribed only by specialist doctors in specific circumstances where other medicines have been futile. Some of these unlicensed prescriptions have been made on the NHS.
There are other cannabis-based medicines that are licensed in the UK. For example, can be taken as a capsule and has been developed to act in a similar way to THC. Doctors can prescribe it to patients having chemotherapy to help with nausea. Another cannabis-based medicine, Sativex contains THC and CBD and is licensed in the UK for multiple sclerosis patients. Recreational use of cannabis still remains illegal.
Ley Sander, Medical Director at the Epilepsy Society and Professor of Neurology at University College London, said, “This new drug will bring hope for some families and EU approval feels like a positive step. Medicinal cannabis, however, still remains a medical minefield and there are many hurdles ahead. CBD was not recommended by NICE for prescription on the NHS. It is important that the pharmaceutical industry continues to work with the medical advisory body to ensure that drugs are cost-effective and that its long-term effects are clear.”