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National Study Shows Effectiveness Of Marijuna Extract For Epilepsy Treatment

North Carolina is among about 17 states that have recently legalized a marijuana extract for the treatment of children with epilepsy. Amazing turnaround stories from parents and their kids have driven the change, but some in the medical community have cautioned there's yet to be a national study. Now, there is, and doctors found the treatment has great potential.

The study started with more than 300 children around the country with severe epilepsy. Dr. Elizabeth Thiele treats some of them at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston. 

“Most of these kids had been on eight to 10 prior medications,” she says. “Many of them had epilepsy surgery. Many of them had been on dietary therapy and yet had never had effective seizure control.”

Doctors tried a new treatment: using a marijuana extract that does not alter brain function. It came in the form of an oil that children swallow. 

For those who stuck with the treatment for at least three months, nearly half experienced a 50 percent reduction in seizures. Thiele calls it extremely effective.

“I have several kids who have the best seizure control they've ever had,” she says. “I have some kids who have been seizure free. One in particular I saw earlier today who's been seizure free now for almost two years because we started kids on this medication almost two years ago.”

The study came out last week. It has some cautionary notes. For one, Thiele says there was no placebo. There are now studies underway that include one.

Also, 16 percent of the children withdrew from the study because the extract wasn't working or because of side effects, including diarrhea and excessive drowsiness.

North Carolina legalized the treatment a year ago. According to the state health department, there are currently 23 patients receiving it.