World first cannabis study to treat epilepsy at Flinders

(Southern Health News, December 2016)

World-first cannabis study to treat epilepsy at FMC

In a major coup, Flinders Medical Centre is taking part in the world’s first Phase 2 trial of cannabidiol – a component of cannabis - for the treatment of epilepsy.

The trial will evaluate the efficacy of gel-based, chemical cannabidiol as an adjunct therapy to reduce, or even halt, the onset on partial onset seizures in people who have regular seizures despite taking medication or undergoing surgery to prevent them.

Cannabidiol is a chemical in the Cannabis sativa plant, also known as marijuana. It is one of at least 113 active cannabinoids identified in cannibas – and the plant’s major non-psychoactive component.

Epilepsy is a common neurological condition often characterised by recurring seizures.The brain controls the body’s actions, sensations and emotions through nerve cells that carry messages between the brain and the body. These messages are transmitted through regular electrical impulses. A seizure occurs when sudden bursts of electrical activity in the brain disrupt this pattern, and can result in unusual movements, odd feelings, changed behaviour or impaired consciousness. Partial onset seizures are seizures that affect only one part of the brain.

Around one to two percent of Australians are diagnosed with epilepsy each year, but about four percent will have epilepsy during their lifetime.

Dr Joseph Frasca, a senior neurologist at Flinders Medical Centre and principal investigator in the trial, said there were three arms to the trial: placebo, and two strengths of cannabidiol.

“Patients in the trial have been given a gel, which they must apply and rub into to the outer arm twice a day. It’s that simple.”

Flinders Medical Centre is one of 10 hospitals nationally – and the only one in South Australia – to take part in the 12-week trial, which is being run in partnership with Zynerba Pharmaceuticals and Novotech Clinical Research.

“We are very proud of the fact that Flinders Medical Centre was selected for the trial – and that Australia pipped every other country to the post in trialling cannabidiol for the treatment of partial onset seizures,” Dr Frasca said.

“If the trial is successful, we will have another form of treatment for patients with partial onset seizures. An estimated one quarter to one third of people in this group have uncontrolled seizures, despite taking medication and often undergoing surgery, so it will be a big step forward in terms of improving quality of life for them.”


Personal story

Maria Gooden had her first seizure when she was only a couple of weeks old. Forty-seven years down the track, she still experiences them regularly.

“They stopped for a while, while I was in high school, but then they returned and I average around one a week,” Maria said.

Maria said her seizures had impacted her quality of life, including limiting her ability to drive and socialise.

“I don’t feel I can get up and go out on my own, in case I have a seizure. I always like to have somebody with me.”

She said while her major seizures had been controlled with medication, she hoped the trial would help her overcome the minor seizures she still experienced.

“If it helps me and others that would be great.”

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