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FDA-approved cannabis treatment provides new treatment options for some epileptics

UPDATED: Tue., June 26, 2018, 9:16 a.m.

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2017, file photo, a syringe loaded with a dose of CBD oil is shown in a research laboratory at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. In a report released Thursday, May 24, 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that synthetic products falsely labeled as cannabidiol, or CBD, sickened as many as 52 people from October through January. (David Zalubowski / AP)

Physicians at the Providence Epilepsy Center in Spokane say a cannabis-based epilepsy drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may be considered for patients.

The cannabidiol-based oral drug known as Epidiolex is meant to treat two severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Epilepsy is a group of related disorders characterized by a tendency for recurrent seizures.

So far, no patients have been prescribed Epidiolex, said Providence spokeswoman Jennifer Semenza.

Ryan Oelrich, regional representative for the Epilepsy Foundation Northwest, said he’s glad to see more options available to those with epilepsy.

“As someone myself who has tried a lot of different medications, CBD (cannabidiol) oil is just another option that could prove very beneficial,” he said. “This just hopefully makes it more accessible.”

Michelle Tsuchida, whose adult son is epileptic, said the community is glad to see more choices, but it’s still going to be a while before the drug becomes widely available. Getting any new treatment approved is difficult, she said.

“You sink or swim, and we’re swimming right now,” she said.

CBD treatments are promising, she added, but they aren’t magic.

“There is no cure for epilepsy,” she said.

Sean McHenry, owner of The Source CBD in Spokane, said the product is similar to cannabis products already available. His shop specializes in medicinal CBD treatments only – not psychoactive THC.

“It’s nothing new that hasn’t been out on the market,” he said. “The difference is theirs is a liquid base.”

Epidiolex is also FDA regulated, whereas products sold at shops like McHenry’s are not. However, they could also come with a much higher price tag, costing somewhere in the range of several thousand dollars by some estimates.

GW Pharmaceuticals, the company that manufactures the drug, has not yet announced a price.

Epidiolex is marketed for only a specific group of epileptics, so McHenry said he isn’t worried about the new drug affecting his business.

His products are marketed to treat a variety of ailments, not just epilepsy. There are also many different strains of cannabinoids, most of which pharmaceutical companies haven’t been able to synthesize yet, he said.

One thing the drug may change is the federal classification for cannabis-based treatments. Right now, any drug derived from the plant is classified under federal law as a schedule I drug along with heroin, cocaine and LSD among others.

But that could change with the approval of Epidiolex, which may move to schedule III and could challenge that current classification for other hemp-based products.

Both Oelrich and Tsuchida said more studies are needed on the effects of CBD-based epilepsy treatments.

“I think more research needs to take place,” Oelrich said. “I hope folks will always consult with their doctors.”