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Is cannabis effective in treating epilepsy? - Professor Jane Hutton comments

As six-year-old Alfie Dingley visits Parliament with his mother, a day after confirmation that he would receive a licence to use cannabis oil to treat his epilepsy, Professor Jane Hutton of the Department of Statistics discusses the efficacy of this drug for the condition.

“Epilepsy is a difficult chronic condition, which can be very challenging for individuals and their families. Cannabis derivatives might be useful, but there is not yet good evidence on the benefits and harms of use. The results of a clinical trial published in 2017 were that seizure frequency was reduced compared to placebo, but there were more side effects.

“With all medication, benefits and side effects have to be considered, and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has established methods for this. Cannabis has been used for patients with epilepsy for over a century, but there is only limited evidence of its effectiveness. A Cochrane review in 2014 found four small placebo controlled randomised trials, from which reliable conclusions cannot be drawn. The results from the recent clinical trial were that for 4 in 10 children seizure frequency was reduced compared to 3 in 10 children on placebo. The side effects included fever, sleepiness, tiredness, diarrhoea and vomiting”.

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