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Artisanal CBD may provide less seizure control than pharmaceutical CBD


Children with refractory epilepsy who took pharmaceutical cannabidiol (CBD) had higher serum CBD levels and better seizure control than those who took artisanal CBD, but they had more adverse side effects, preliminary results of a small study indicate.

Given the widespread use of artisanal CBD products, Nathan T. Cohen, MD, pediatric epilepsy fellow, Children’s National Hospital, Washington, DC, and his colleagues wanted to know how these products differ from pharmaceutical grade CBD with respect to seizure control.

“One of the challenges or questions we have is whether there is any information that would guide us and suggest patients transition from artisanal to pharmaceutical grade CBD,” Dr. Cohen, who is lead author of the study, told Medscape Medical News.

The findings were released February 27 ahead of the study’s scheduled presentation at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. The AAN canceled the meeting and released abstracts and access to presenters for press coverage. The study received no outside funding.

In addition to helping relieve anxiety and stress, CBD, one of many constituents of Cannabis sativa, has antiseizure properties. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a pharmaceutical CBD (Epidiolex, GW Pharmaceuticals) for the management of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) and Dravet syndrome.

This purified oral CBD prescription product does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component of marijuana that produces a “high.”

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Artisanal CBD, which has been around since the late 1970s, is manufactured using variable amounts of CBD and THC. Artisanal products, which typically come in the form of oils that are swallowed, are available in dispensaries and elsewhere, depending on the legal status in individual states.

These artisanal formulations are popular among patients with epilepsy and their families. On the basis of the advertising he sees, Dr. Cohen estimates there are at least 100 artisanal CBD products, but he was quick to stress he’s not an expert on artisanal CBD.

He noted that some families are “searching for an alternative treatment” to help control their child’s seizures, and if the seizure syndrome isn’t LGS or Dravet, “then technically, they don’t qualify for prescription-strength CBD,” said Dr. Cohen.

The current study was a retrospective chart review and included patients with epilepsy who underwent treatment with artisanal or pharmaceutical CBD for whom serum CBD levels were available.

In addition to CBD levels, the researchers had information on patients’ date of birth, gender, epilepsy diagnosis, artisanal or pharmaceutical CBD dose, seizure history, and side effects, among other things.

The analysis included 31 patients (48% female; mean age, about 10 years). Of these, 32% had LGS, 6% had Dravet, and the rest had other epilepsy syndromes.

Of the total, 22 patients participated in a pharmaceutical CBD expanded-access program. The remaining nine patients received artisanal CBD.

The mean serum CBD level was 30.1 ng/mL in the artisanal group and 124 ng/mL in the pharmaceutical group.

Dr. Cohen noted that artisanal products contain lower amounts of CBD because they’re not purified, and they may contain other compounds derived from marijuana.

At the last follow-up, which was a median of 11.8 months, patients who took artisanal CBD had a 70% increase in overall seizures. Dr. Cohen pointed out that some of the hundreds of compounds in marijuana could be “pro-convulsant.”

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