Medicinal cannabis ‘helpful’ in managing epilepsy

Without more investment in medical marijuana research, cannabis and cannabinoid products are likely to remain hugely expensive. 

Lisa Todd, a Clinical Nurse Consultant with Epilepsy Action Australia, works with families who have found cannabis has dramatically helped to reduce the number of epileptic seizures their child suffers, with seizures ceasing altogether in some cases.

While EAA doesn’t advise people considering using cannabis-based products either way, the organisation aims to “help people make informed decisions about using cannabinoid based products as therapeutic agents,” Lisa says.

“We support clients in an advocacy role who are utilising unregulated products and those wishing to access it legally.”

A recent survey of 983 epileptics and families of epileptic children conducted by Epilepsy Action Australia found that 14% of people were using cannabis-based products for medicinal purposes. And 86% of those people reported that medicinal cannabis was helpful in managing their seizure activity.

While the science explaining how cannabis helps to manage epilepsy and other medical conditions is still in its early stages (see pp. 18–19), the EAA is calling for the decriminalisation of medicinal cannabis use until the legal avenues for access to medicinal cannabis products become more widely available.

“We are calling for amnesty in this transition period whilst the law, science and product availability and affordability catch up to community expectations,” Lisa says.

Safe, affordable products needed

Lisa, who has studied the use of medical cannabis in the US, is concerned that unregulated distribution and use of cannabis for medical purposes means that people are losing the opportunity to access safe products under medical supervision.

Hemp plants are known to absorb heavy metals, including mercury, Lisa notes. And despite the anecdotal and early scientific research into the cannabis for medical use, anyone consuming the drug should be aware of the interactions it might have with other drugs, as well as information on safe dosage and side effects.

In a new trial in NSW, 40 children have begun receiving doses of pharmaceutical-grade, cannabis-derived medicine to treat severe, drug-resistant epilepsy under the NSW Government’s Compassionate Access Scheme for Epidiolex®.

But with epilepsy affecting a quarter of a million Australians, including many children, Todd would like to see a significant increase in medicinal cannabis research, so that safe, affordable and accessible products are available to all who need them.


Watch the SBS documentary – The truth about medical marijuana

SBS broadcast an in-depth program on the issues around medical cannabis including an interview with Lucy Haslam which is available on SBS On Demand.