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Review
Evidence for cannabis and cannabinoids for epilepsy: a systematic review of controlled and observational evidence

Abstract

Review evidence for cannabinoids as adjunctive treatments for treatment-resistant epilepsy. Systematic search of Medline, Embase and PsycINFO was conducted in October 2017. Outcomes were: 50%+ seizure reduction, complete seizure freedom; improved quality of life (QoL). Tolerability/safety were assessed by study withdrawals, adverse events (AEs) and serious adverse events (SAEs). Analyses were conducted in Stata V.15.0. 36 studies were identified: 6 randomised controlled trials (RCTs), 30 observational studies. Mean age of participants was 16.1 years (range 0.5–55 years). Cannabidiol (CBD) 20 mg/kg/day was more effective than placebo at reducing seizure frequency by 50%+(relative risk (RR) 1.74, 95% CI 1.24 to 2.43, 2 RCTs, 291 patients, low Grades of Recommendation, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) rating). The number needed to treat for one person using CBD to experience 50%+ seizure reduction was 8 (95% CI 6 to 17). CBD was more effective than placebo at achieving complete seizure freedom (RR 6.17, 95% CI 1.50 to 25.32, 3 RCTs, 306 patients, low GRADE rating), and improving QoL (RR 1.73, 95% CI 1.33 to 2.26), however increased risk of AEs (RR 1.24, 95% CI 1.13 to 1.36) and SAEs (RR 2.55, 95% CI 1.48 to 4.38). Pooled across 17 observational studies, 48.5% (95% CI 39.0% to 58.1%) of patients reported 50%+ reductions in seizures; in 14 observational studies 8.5% (95% CI 3.8% to 14.5%) were seizure-free. Twelve observational studies reported improved QoL (55.8%, 95% CI 40.5 to 70.6); 50.6% (95% CI 31.7 to 69.4) AEs and 2.2% (95% CI 0 to 7.9) SAEs. Pharmaceutical-grade CBD as adjuvant treatment in paediatric-onset drug-resistant epilepsy may reduce seizure frequency. Existing RCT evidence is mostly in paediatric samples with rare and severe epilepsy syndromes; RCTs examining other syndromes and cannabinoids are needed.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42017055412.

  • epilepsy
  • cannabis
  • cannabinoids
  • dravet syndrome
  • lennox-gastaut syndrome
  • seizures
  • cannabidiol

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