Epilepsy Foundation advocates medical marijuana research

By Katie Demeria

The Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia is supporting the use of medical marijuana in clinical trials and research as a possible epilepsy treatment.

Dr. Paul Lyons of Winchester Neurological Consultants is on the Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia board. He said many do not recognize the numerous potential health benefits of the cannabis plant — and how important it is to provide a new, different medication to those suffering from epilepsy.

Each epileptic patient is different, responding to various drugs to treat the neurological disorder. But after failing the first three drugs a physician prescribes, the chances of finding a medication that works is reduced to 1 percent.

“That’s why some of these families are desperate, and all are anxious,” Lyons said.

There are 600 chemicals in the herb marijuana, he said, and the ones researchers are interested in as a possible treatment for epilepsy are the 100 cannabinoids within the plant.

The chemical that causes the psychoactive effects, Lyons said, is not what would be used to treat epilepsy.

“Parents would not be giving their children an herb they need to smoke or inhale,” he said. “The Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia is in favor of the medical use of the extracts of marijuana, and those are lacking the psychoactive properties.

“We want to help children with epilepsy,” he continued.

One third of the patients with epilepsy suffer one seizure at least every day, week or month, Lyons said. It is a debilitating disorder, one which impacts how these individuals live their lives.

Lyons said he has one 26-year-old patient who takes 10 medications a day and is homebound. She depends entirely on her family to care for her, and has dislocated her shoulder repeatedly and suffered impaired memory as a result of her seizures.

“It isolates you from life,” Lyons said. “The field is very anxious for new options.”

Though cannabinoids would not help every patient with epilepsy, he said it would give hope to children and their families who are quickly running out of other pharmaceutical options. The human body actually makes its own form of cannabinoid, he pointed out.

“We have a system already in place that is prime to be responsive to cannabinoids,” he said. “It’s an exciting field and a new opportunity to offer some potential therapeutics.”

The Epilepsy Foundation of Virginia is advocating for the commonwealth to allow cannabinoid research. Lyons said that even those research trials could be beneficial to his patients.

“I have mothers asking me what I could do, and I feel compelled to advocate for these mothers and their children,” he said. “The best I can offer is a research trial. If you talk to one of these mothers, you see these children and you know the consequences of the disease.”

“You think of these children going through all these things to reach seizure freedom, and you’d think even the option to take medical marijuana would be prudent,” he said.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com