The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a marijuana-derived drug for the treatment of two rare and serious forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, that begin in childhood but can persist in adulthood.
The drug is made from purified cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound found in the cannabis plant. The drug will be marketed under the brand name Epidiolex. CBD has medicinal effects, but it does not cause the mind-altering high that comes from THC, the primary psychoactive component of marijuana. The FDA says this is the first drug approved in the U.S. that contains a purified substance derived from marijuana. The agency has previously approved drugs made from synthetic versions of THC and other marijuana constituents. “This approval serves as a reminder that advancing sound development programs that properly evaluate active ingredients contained in marijuana can lead to important medical therapies,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb during a call with reporters about the approval. Several states have legalized CBD oil specifically for the treatment of intractable epilepsy or seizure disorders. And, as NPR has reported, CBD supplements are available widely online and in dispensaries in the form of oils or tinctures. CBD oil has gained popularity with consumers as a remedy for a variety of other ailments. However, the legal status of these products is uncertain, as is their quality. They’re not regulated the way pharmaceutical drugs are, so the consistency and dose can vary widely. Having an FDA-approved, pharmaceutical-grade CBD drug will open up a new treatment option for epilepsy patients by delivering a high-quality, consistent dose of CBD, says Robert Carson a pediatric neurologist at Vanderbilt University who treats patients with epilepsy.