Irish plans to develop new cannabis-based treatments for epilepsy announced

An estimated 10,000 people in Ireland are resistant to current treatments for epilepsy

Photograph: Getty Images

Photograph: Getty Images

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Plans to develop new cannabis-based treatments for some of the most common forms of epilepsy have been announced by a team of Irish scientists.

The initiative will be led by FutureNeuro, a Science Foundation Ireland research centre for chronic and rare neurological diseases based at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

The research in partnership with GreenLight Medicines, an Irish biopharmaceutical company, will explore how cannabidiol (CBD) and other non-psychoactive molecules from the cannabis plant can reduce seizures. It will also look at optimising the effectiveness of this new approach to treat epilepsy, especially “drug resistant epilepsies”, which can affect children in particular.

“This project has strong alignment with FutureNeuro’s strategic goal to bring novel treatments to patients in Ireland with difficult to control epilepsy,” said Prof David Henshall, the project’s academic supervisor.

An estimated 10,000 people in Ireland are resistant to current treatments for epilepsy, one of the most common neurological diseases. This means they have numerous, uncontrolled seizures every day. They can result in other devastating effects, including a reduction in cognitive abilities.

Principal investigator at FutureNeuro Dr Colin Doherty said: “Use of cannabis to treat epilepsy offers a tantalising new horizon for severe disabling seizures. The mechanism by which CBD exerts its antiepileptic effects is currently unknown, and this impactful research will help to provide clinical evidence of its long-term efficacy, as well as data on any long-term side effects.”

Emerging evidence suggests CBD and possibly other cannabis components reduce seizures in patients with rare genetic epilepsies and may have potential as a treatment for refractory epilepsy.

Dr James Linden, chief executive of GreenLight Medicines said: “We are delighted to work with FutureNeuro to investigate if Greenlight compounds have potential as treatments for drug-resistant epilepsy. It’s a great opportunity to make a difference to the lives of thousands of epilepsy patients.”

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