How a Cannabis-Derived Epilepsy Drug is Changing the Pharmaceutical World

GW Pharmaceuticals recently reported Q2 2019 sales of $68.4 million for their Epidiolex. Normally, updates like this would never make the news, but Epidiolex is different than any other pharmaceutical in that its main compound is derived from cannabidiol (CBD) to treat certain forms of epilepsy. This begs to question how cannabis can be used to treat epilepsy and other types of similar syndromes that are affecting millions of people around the world. Let’s look deeper into the cannabis-derived Epidiolex drug and how epileptic patients can use it to help get relief from their symptoms.

How Epidiolex Got Its Start

Epidiolex, costs $32,500 a year on average and is the first cannabis-derived, CBD drug in the U.S. The drug made waves in the pharmaceutical world as a cannabis-derived oral solution that was approved for the treatment of two rare forms of epilepsy in people ages 2 and older. Epidiolex is also currently the only drug approved to treat on of the two forms of epilepsy: Dravet syndrome. This rare genetic condition affects infants, giving them regular seizures that can greatly impact their development.

Although Epidiolex is not, however, the first marijuana-based medication approved by the FDA. A derivative of THC called Marinol received FDA approval way back in 1985. Marinol was used to combat nausea associated with cancer treatments and to help increase the appetite of people with AIDS. Epidiolex received its FDA approval on June 25, 2018 with the FDA stating in their approval that they would “continue to support rigorous scientific research on the potential medical uses of marijuana-derived products and work with product developers who are interested in bringing patients safe and effective, high quality products.” This is promising news for the cannabis industry as more research may ultimately lead to less of a stigma due to the increased availability of new medical insights.

Epidiolex and Epilepsy Treatments

For those not privy to the intricacies of epilepsy, here’s the rundown. It’s a common neurological disorder that currently affects roughly 3.4 million people in the U.S. who all experience many different types and levels of severity. Some forms of epilepsy are resistant to traditional medications, so patients have been searching for alternative therapies over the years that including non-psychoactive compound in cannabis and CBD.

Before taking Epidiolex at 20mg dosages for 14 weeks, researchers found in studies that participants had 47% fewer documented seizures and 46% fewer documented seizures with convulsions in the 4-week period following their supplementation. The group that supplemented with 10mg of Epidiolex saw 56% fewer documented seizures overall and 49% fewer documented seizures with convulsions whereas the placebo group dropped by just 30%, while seizures with convulsions in this group fell by just 27%. Side effects for both 10 and 20mg groups Epidiolex were minimal, therefore showing the major breakthrough benefits of supplementing with the drug over other medicines.

A Change to TSA Guidelines

Many epileptic individuals are seeking to make a normal, active lifestyle a possibility, but one thing has always stood in their way: air travel. Ever since 9/11, the TSA has cracked down on illegal substances, even going so far as to make certain high-grade pharmaceuticals verboten in your carry-on luggage.

Thankfully, there has been a breakthrough with the TSA which has recently updated its guidance to passengers on what can be brought aboard aircraft. The TSA’s update notes that medical marijuana drugs such as Epidiolex would be subject to “special instructions” and could be brought on board or placed in checked luggage. With the TSA on board with allowing less restrictions on medical marijuana pharmaceuticals and new research by the FDA on the horizon, sales of Epidiolex could continue to soar in the coming years. This could lead to a greater rate of development and adoption of similar cannabis-derived drugs which may allow patients to have even more treatment options for their epilepsy and other neurological disorders in the future.

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