Health & Science

Texas Children’s Part of Clinical Trial for Medical Marijuana Drug

Pediatric epilepsy patients will try THC-free cannabis extract, others get placebo

Texas Children’s Hospital has begun testing an experimental drug for epilepsy derived from the marijuana plant. It is the only Texas participant in the ground-breaking international clinical trial.

The drug is called Epidiolex. It’s a liquid extract derived from specially-bred marijuana plants grown by a British pharmaceutical company in the south of England.

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Dr. Angus Wilfong Photo courtesy of Texas Children’s Hospital

Dr. Angus Wilfong will lead the study at Texas Children’s. He’s a pediatric neurologist who specializes in severe forms of epilepsy that don’t respond to conventional treatments.

“To see the children convulse and turn blue, and it’s like their lives are slipping between your fingers,” he said. “We’re desperately using medicines that just aren’t working and so we’re really hopeful that any new medicine will work.”

Although it’s made from the cannabis plant, Epidiolex contains no THC, the chemical that gets people high. Instead, it has high levels of a different compound, cannabidiol. It’s that compound that is believed to help control seizures in children.

Texas Children’s will enroll just a handful of children in the trial, Wilfong said. They all have a severe form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome. Dravet can cause hundreds of short seizures per day, and trigger extended seizures that can last for weeks or even months.  Sometimes the children die.

“We’re desperate, the families are desperate, for something that is going to slow down, stop, control this horrible, devastating disease,” Wilfong said.

There have been anecdotal reports of epileptic children being helped by a form of medical marijuana called “Charlotte’s Web,” which has low levels of THC but high levels of cannabidiol. Some families have even moved to Colorado to access the strain.

But this study will try to scientifically assess the benefits of a THC-free cannabis extract on children. It will be a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, and it’s the first clinical trial in the United States to offer a cannabis-derived drug for children.  

 

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Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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