First epilepsy drug based on cannabis drug approved in the United States

The health regulator in the United States has approved an epilepsy treatment by GW Pharmaceuticals Plc which is based on the drug cannabis. This is the first such drug to win approval in that country.

Cannabis is derived from the marijuana plant and the approval allows it to be used in patients aged two years and older with Dravet Syndrome (DS) and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS). Both are rare childhood onset forms of epilepsy that are among the most difficult to treat.

The two forms of epilepsy are severe and associated with high death rates. Some LGS patients have to wear helmets to avoid brain injuries from drop seizures. In this, muscles suddenly become limp and cause standing patients to collapse.

The drug is called Epidiolex and is made up of cannabidiol (CBD). This is among the hundreds of molecules found in the marijuana plant. It contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component that makes people high.

GW Pharma grows its own supply of cannabis in the United Kingdom to ensure uniformity in the genetic composition of the plants. THC can lead to paranoia, anxiety and hallucinations, while CBD has the opposite effect. It has been cited as a potential treatment for mental health issues.

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