A Sydney study will test whether the illegal use of cannabis for epilepsy really works

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Australian researchers have launched a study into whether the backyard use of cannabis-based extracts really does help children with severe epilepsy.

Families have reported dramatic benefits with small doses of oils and liquid extracts derived from cannabis. These are often taken on top of conventional antiepileptic drugs.

Researchers at the Lambert Initiative, in partnership with Epilepsy Action Australia, today launched the PELICAN study (Paediatric Epilepsy Lambert Initiative Cannabinoid Analysis).

A $33.7 million gift to the University of Sydney last year created the Lambert Initiative. The donation was made by Barry and Joy Lambert whose granddaughter suffers debilitating epilepsy.

“Parents using illegal cannabis-based extracts to treat their children often inhabit a twilight world of incredible stress and uncertainty,” says Anastasia Suraev, the trial coordinator of the study.

“All parents want for their child is to live a normal, happy life. Most of them have tried all of the conventional treatment options available for their child before trying cannabis-based extracts.”

Recent research had found the endocannabinoid system of the brain plays a major role in balancing neurons and that malfunctioning of this system can lead to a variety of problems, including seizures.

Cannabis-based oils and liquid extracts can contain more than 100 different cannabinoid compounds but different strains of cannabis can have vastly different cannabinoid profiles.

One of the cannabinoids, a compound called cannabidiol (CBD), has been linked to antiepileptic effects in humans.

However, Australian cannabis tends to be very low in CBD so it is likely that other cannabinoids have important antiepileptic effects.

This new study has potential ramifications on legislative change and medicine development.

“Cannabinoids appear to be providing extraordinary therapeutic effects in some children with paediatric epilepsy, but we lack a clear understanding of how they are achieving this,” says Iain McGregor, Professor of Psychopharmacology from the Lambert Initiative.

He says the study looks at the reality of what was happening in the community.

“Rather than making a medicine in the lab and then taking it to the community, which is a long and complex process, we will be looking at what’s happening in the community right now, and then taking these back to the lab,” he says.

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