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Cannabis study: Whole-plant cannabis is more powerful at treating epilepsy than CBD

Brazilian researchers say that "CBD-rich extracts seem to present a better therapeutic profile than purified CBD"

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

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The number of cannabis studies demonstrating the plant’s medical potency for the treatment of epilepsy, among many other ailments, is rapidly increasing. 

In June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a cannabis-based medicine for epileptic patients, known as Epidiolex. The drug, which was produced by British biopharma company GW Pharmaceuticals, is rich in a non-psychoactive cannabinoid called Cannabidiol (CBD).

This active compound of the cannabis plant has garnered global attention for its therapeutic properties, but scientists have discovered that whole-plant medicine could actually prove more effective at relieving the symptoms of epilepsy than plant-derived cannabinoids, like CBD.

Brazilian researchers conduct cannabis study to investigate the “entourage effect”

Amidst the rise of legal weed, producers of “whole-plant” or “full-spectrum” cannabis extracts have engaged in heated debates. They argue that by blending a number of different cannabinoids, patients can benefit from something known as the “entourage effect”.

However, cannabis studies on the plant’s potential synergistic effects are somewhat restricted.

A group of Brazilian researchers has taken it upon themselves to figure out what the “entourage effect” means for people who are using cannabis to treat epilepsy. What they determined was that whole-plant cannabis extracts are in fact more powerful at relieving the symptoms of epilepsy than purified CBD on its own.  

A meta-analysis of cannabis studies was carried out by the South American researchers, who delved into the pharmaceutical properties of CBD for the treatment of epilepsy. 

Their research dated from 2013 to 2017 and the concluding study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology last month, examined the “safety and efficacy” of CBD medicines for epileptic patients.

Furthermore, it explored whether or not “there is enough evidence to assume any difference in efficacy between CBD-rich extracts compared to purified CBD products.”

Whole-plant extracts boast a better therapeutic profile than purified CBD

According to researcher conclusions drawn from the cannabis studies, every form of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid effectively minimized the rate at which an epileptic patient experienced seizures.

This was apparent even in patients with highly resistant types of epilepsy, including Lennox-Gastaut and Stacey syndrome, two rare types of epilepsy that can be treated using GW Pharma’s Epidiolex medicine.

Categorical data from 670 patients was analyzed for the cannabis studies.  

“Pooled together, the data from 11 studies provide strong evidence in support of the therapeutic value of high-CBD treatment,” said the Brazilian researchers.

Reduced seizures were reported among two-thirds of patients across all of the studies. “Over 80 percent of the patients” from six of the studies experienced an improvement in their symptoms.

Although the results of these cannabis studies were fairly predictable, researchers have drawn fresh attention to the potential of whole-plant extracts and their ability to produce the “entourage effect” in patients with various types of epilepsy.

While a mere 36 percent of patients reported symptom relief from CBD administration, 71 percent experienced relief after taking whole-plant cannabis extracts.

“CBD-rich extracts seem to present a better therapeutic profile than purified CBD, at least in this population of patients with refractory epilepsy,” the researchers conjectured. “The roots of this difference is likely due to synergistic effects of CBD with other phytocompounds, but this remains to be confirmed in controlled clinical studies.”

Study findings backed by Australian researchers

The findings of these cannabis studies were supported by researchers from the University of Sydney earlier this year.

A team of Australian researchers from the university’s Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics department conducted tests on 51 samples of illicit cannabis extracts, all of which were being used by families to treat their epileptic children.

Interestingly, the Australian researchers discovered that the most effective type of extract for the treatment of epilepsy contained small amounts of CBD. The most powerful extracts were rich in the compounds THC and THCA, two cannabis compound that may also contribute to the “entourage effect.”

“Although the illicit extracts we analyzed contained low doses of CBD, three in four were reported as ‘effective,’ indicating the importance of researching the cannabis plant in its entirety for the treatment of epilepsy,” said the co-author and Lambert Initiative director, Professor Iain McGregor. “Our research indicates there is a potential role for other cannabinoids, alone or in combination with conventional drugs, in treatment-resistant epilepsy — and this warrants further investigation so we can hopefully develop safer and more effective medicines.”

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Cannabis study: Whole-plant cannabis is more powerful at treating epilepsy than CBD