Perth Children’s Hospital head neurologist: usefulness of cannabis treatment ‘not strong’

Stock image.
Stock image.

A LEADING Perth neurologist who prescribed oil made from cannabis to treat a Midland toddler’s epilepsy says the “usefulness” of managing the condition is not strong.

Perth Children’s Hospital head of neurology Dr Simon Williams prescribed Zavier Elward cannabidiol (CBD) to treat the effects of his epilepsy at his parents’ request.

The two-year-old’s mother Shaileen Roberts said they had tried countless different medications to treat Zavier’s epilepsy but nothing had worked so as a last resort they trialled the CBD oil.

“Before Zavier took the oil, on a good day he was having about 20 seizures and on a bad day about 50 plus,” she said.

“He’s been on the CBD oil about a month and in that time he’s only had two seizures…it’s very promising.”

Dr Williams said the impact of CBD varied and was used for treating epilepsy when patient’s seizures did not successfully respond to anti-seizure drug therapy.

“For most patients it doesn’t make much difference, but for some it can help reduce seizure frequency and intensity,” he said.

“Some parents report that the children are brighter and more alert as well.

“Overall, the evidence of its usefulness in managing epilepsy is not very strong.”

Dr Williams said the treatment was generally well tolerated, although it could cause problems with drowsiness and gut function.

“There is a very high demand for CBD for lots of different indications,” he said.

“With epilepsy, we only use it for those who continue to have severe epilepsy despite treatment with multiple other anticonvulsant medications.

“I generally advise parents to use medications that have good levels of evidence of usefulness.”

WA Health Minister Roger Cook said CBD was used as an add-on to current treatment in drug-resistant epilepsy where four or five other anti-epileptic drugs had not controlled the seizures.

“Most CBD products are legally available in Australia and can be prescribed by any medical practitioner without further restrictions,” he said.

“It is recommended that patients and parents discuss the risks and implications of using an unapproved product with their family general practitioner.”

AMA (WA) president Dr Omar Khorshid said current legislative framework for accessing medicinal cannabis could be confusing and that patients should go through the Special Access Scheme to access medicines not approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

“The safety and efficacy of medicinal cannabis is still largely unknown, however preliminary findings show it may have therapeutic benefits for specific conditions in a very small number of people,” he said.

“Patients who feel they may benefit from cannabis preparations should discuss the issue with their doctor and more information is available on the TGA website.”

On Monday, the TGA quietly rolled out a streamlined application process for medical cannabis.

Mr Cook said the WA Health Department worked with their interstate and territory counterparts to come up with the new streamlined process and that it was pleasing to see these efforts had come to fruition.