Tourette's Syndrome

Medical cannabis in Tourette’s syndrome: case reports and a small randomized controlled clinical trial

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist
June 11, 2018

@VThornleyMD

Introduction
When one hears Tourette’s syndrome the glorified Hollywood impression young person who shouts obscenities comes to mind. It is composed of complex motor or vocal tics generally preceded by a premonitory urge. Vocal tics may consist of coprolalia and echolalia. Motor tics may involve complex actions including copropraxia or simple motor tics. Obsessive compulsive disorder and other neuropsychiatric conditions are often associated with it.

The underlying problem is thought to be related to an imbalance of the neurotransmitters necessary to maintain the fine coordination necessary to avoid excessive motor activity. When that balance is impaired there is less inhibition of motor loop control resulting in reverberating loops and excess movements involving motor groups including muscles controlling speech and body movements. Because the pathophysiology is not entirely clear, these may be some of the most challenging neurological disorders in terms of treatments from a neurological standpoint.

Background on Cannabinoid Mechanisms
With the advent of medical cannabis used in neurological conditions, new indications are discovered. The mechanism is at the level of the endocannabinoid system already inherent within the system. There are 2 receptors, CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptor is found mostly within the nervous system. The CB2 receptor is mostly in the immune system but is found in other organ systems to a lesser extent. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a mimetic of Anandamide which works within the endocannabinoid system and has medical properties. THC interacts with the CB1 receptor which is responsible for psychoactive properties most people are familiar with. It is likely at the CB1 receptor where other neurological symptoms are alleviated since this most abundantly found in the nervous system and many neurological symptoms are ameliorated with medical cannabis. Cannabidiol (CBD), which is non-psychoactive, is a pharmacomimetic of 2-AG or diarachidonylglycerol. It is an non-competitive allosteric modulator of the CB1 receptor which alleviates any side effects from THC when they are combined together (1).

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Clinical Reports
There is one report of a patient treated with nabiximol where there was improvement of tics. There was overall improvement in quality of life and global improvement. There was lessening of premonitory urges. Patients feel the premonitory symptoms are more bothersome. In one study anti-psychotics helped ameliorate the motor tics but did not improve the premonitory symptoms (2). Nabiximol was used in this study where 1 puff contained 2.7mg of THC and 2.5mg of CBD. Assessments included the Yale Global Tic Severity Scale (YGTSS), Tourette’s Syndrome Symptom LIst (TSSL), Modified Rush Video Tic Scale, Premonitory Urge for Tic Scale, Global Clinical Impairment, Visual Analogue Scale for satisfaction for the GTS-Quality of Life. The study showed the best results in the quality of life in terms of alleviating premonitory urges. Larger clinical trials are needed to further this study (2).

In a recent case report, THC (trademark Sativex) was used with success to treat a patient using 10.8mg THC and 10mg CBD daily. Yale Global Tic Severity Scale (YGTSS) and the Original Rush Video Tic Scale were used as measures of evaluation. The results demonstrated effective use of THC in combination with THC for treatment in medically refractory patients (5).

In one single dose, cross over study in 12 patients and a randomized trial in 24 patients spanning 6 weeks was performed (3). The study demonstrated that THC reduces tics without any disruption in cognitive function. Neuropsychological impairment was not seen (3).

In the randomized double blinded placebo-controlled clinical trial of 24 patients, THC of up to 10mg was used in the treated cohort over 6 weeks. Measures used included the Tourette’s Syndrome Clinical Global Impression Scale (TS-CGI), Shapiro Tourette Syndrome Severity Scale (STSS), the Yale Global Tic Severity Scale (YGTSS), Tourette Syndrome Symptom List (TSSL) and the videotape based rating scale. Patients were rated at visits 1 for baseline, visits 3-4 during treatment and visits 5-6 after withdrawal. There was a significant difference between both groups. There was a significant reduction in motor tics, vocal tics and obsessive compulsive disorder. No significant adverse cognitive effects were noted (4).

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More randomized controlled clinical studies are necessary
While there may be a paucity of large clinical trials of the use of medical cannabis in Tourette’s syndrome, tetrahydrocannabinol is a potential therapeutic agent in a neurological disorder where treatment options are very limited and often times unsuccessful. Adverse side effects can preclude treatment using conventional pharmaceutic agents.

While large randomized controlled clinical trials are necessary in providing standard of care, tetrahydrocannabinol has emerged as a potential treatment option used by clinicians who are on the frontlines of treating this debilitating disorder.

About

Introduction/Disclaimer

http://neurologybuzz.com

 

Reference
1. Laprairie, et al, “Cannabidiol is a negative allosteric modulator of the cannabinoid CB1 receptor,” Br. J. Pharmacology, 2015, Oct., 172(20):4790-4805
2. Kanaan, et al, “Significant tic reduction in an otherwise treatment-resistant patient with Gilles de la Tourette syndrome following treatment with nabiximol,: Brain Science, 2017, Apr., 7 (5):47
3. Muller-Vahl,”Cannabinoids reduce symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome,” Expert Opin Pharmacother., 2003, Oct., 4(10):17-1725
4. Muller-Vahl, “Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is effective in the treatment of tics in Tourette syndrome: a 6 week randomized trial,” J. Clin Psychiatry, 2003, Apr., 64 (4):459-65
5. Trainor, “Severe motor and vocal tics controlled with Sativex®,” Australas Psychiatry, 2016, Dec, 24 (6):541-544

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stem cell

Mesenchymal stem cell therapy: a viable non-surgical option in lower back pain treatment

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist

June 9, 2018

Introduction

Back pain is one of the most common pain disorders encountered by neurologists, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons and pain specialists in the out-patient setting. It is not uncommon for patients to go through an extensive list of medications, steroid injections, physical therapy and even surgery and still remain in unrelenting pain. There is a growing interest in alternative treatments especially with the opioid crisis looming and restriction of strong pain medications. This seeks to review scientific mechanisms behind the success in stem cell treatment. It recaps clinical data. Despite a scarcity of published huge randomized clinical trials, there is a growing and clamoring need for alternative treatments such as stem cell therapy for patients desperately trying to find alleviation from their pain. Trailblazing physicians are using this treatment option in real life practice with growing results.
Back pain is a very common disorder which is especially prevalent in the elderly after wear and tear of long-term activity in conjunction with the natural degenerative changes that come with the aging process. Normally the intervertebral disc complex can withstand compression and shear forces because of the proteoglycans that bind water molecules. This becomes lost with aging. In degenerative disc disease, there are pro-inflammatory molecules.

Pathogenesis of degenerative disc disease
Within the nucleus pulposus, there is no vascular supply except at the end neural plate, has no nerves and is prone to damage. The nucleus pulposus relies on glycolysis for effective disposal of waste products through the endplates. After decades, the nucleus pulposus no longer has notochordal features and is replaced by small chondrocyte like cells. There is replacement of the collagen type 1 and collagen type 2 loss eventually replaced with fibrocartilaginous material. Eventually with time, the endplates have calcification of the small pores where molecules diffuse (1).

 

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There are anabolic processes involved as well as catabolic processes including involvement of enzymes, inflammatory mediators, proteinases, aggrecanases. Examples include IL-1 and TNF-alpha. because the disc is avascular this creates an environement of poor regenerative responses with harsh conditions (3).

Some patients may have a genetic predisposition to have flawed extracellular matrix where degenerative disc disease may occur more severely than in other people. Cleavage of proteoglycan can occur with enzymes resulting in loss of height and less ability to reduce compressive and shearing forces. In addition, environmental factors including occupational activities, excessive physical activity impacting the spine may contribute towards degenerative disc disease (1).

Alternative treatment: stem cell therapy
In order to address these issues, various treatments have arisen to try to try to halt the cascade leading to degenerative disc disease. This includes implantation of biomolecules to reduce the catabolic process.

 

 

Stem cell research is gaining more traction as a viable alternative for treatment of this debilitating condition. One study looked at the potential of nucleus pulposus-like cells derived from mesenchymal cells in the rabbit model. From these cells, SOX9, ACAN, COL2, FOXF1, and KRT19 genes were expressed(2). Transplanted nucleus pulposus cells were integrated into the intervertebral disc complex. Improved water content, glycosaminoglycan, and cellularity within the complex was noted. There was a suggestion of biosynthesis with the gene expression of SOX9, ACAn, COL4 (2). This animal study demonstrates that there may be value in nucleus pulposus cells derived from mesenchymal cells may lead to clinical studies where stem cells can be used for back pain.

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Injection of mesenchymal stem cells
Injections of mesenchymal stems cells into the disc may reduce the clinical pain and restore disc tissue loss. It may be able to reduce the catabolic microenvirnment (3)

Clinical studies of stem cell use in humans
It appears that stems cells of mesenchymal type derived from adipose or the umbilicus may have the most promise (4).

In one small study of 10 patients, autologous bone marrow mesenchymal cells were were injected in the nucleosus pulposus and followed for a year. After 3 months, there was improvement of pain and disability of 85% of the maximum. After 12 months, there was still high water content within the nucleosus pulposus (5).

Stem cell effects were studied in 2 patients with back pain and leg numbness. Marrow fluid was obtained autologously from the ilium from each patient. Mesenchymal stem cells were cultured in autogenous serum. Fenestration was performed and collagen sponge was applied percutaneously to the affected intervertebral disc complex. After 2 years, the T2 signal was high showing increased disc content in the grafted discs. Clinical symptoms were ameliorated (6).

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Clinical trials
In an open label trial of 26 patients, using the VAS and Oswestbry disability scale, there was reduced pain after percutaneous injection of bone marrow cell concentrate showing autologous mesenchymal stem cells are a viable alternative treatment for back pain (7). They studied the patients through 12 months. Those who received >2000 colony forming fibroblast units/ml had faster and greater pain reduction.

There is one small randomized controlled clinical trial in 24 patients using the Pfirrmann grading scale for degeneration, allogeneic mesenchymal cells were transferred to the clinical cohort. Significant relief of pain was noted compared to the sham group demonstrating that allogeneic transfer may be logistically better than autogenous transfer (8).

 

Possible adverse effects
Concerns include transformation into neoplastic process. This seems to be true with embryonic stem cells which are much earlier seen in the cell lineage. Mesenchymal cells are further down the line as a committed cell type to obviate this. With in vitro culturing, there is concern for cell mutations, but this is less of a concern if it is a same day procedure, autologous and exist as when they were in the body previously. There is concern for extravasation beyond the limit of the disc and if combined with other treatments such as PRP it may promote osteogenesis. In addition, animal models may not replicate the harsh microenvironments of disc pathology where continual torsion and pressure is involved and effects and outcomes might be different (3).

In summary
There is much scientific and animal model data that stem cells remain a viable option for treatment of back pain which is one of the most common problem encountered by neurologists, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons and pain management specialists. While there is much demonstrated in animal studies, clinical trials are still very sparse. This treatment, however, shows promise and despite paucity of clinical trial data, this treatment is gaining traction in practicing clinicians who treat back pain.

Given the failure with medications and even with surgery there is increased interest in alternative treatments including stem cell therapy.

Introduction/Disclaimer

Introduction/Disclaimer

References

1. Rosenberg, et al, “Bedside to bench and back to bedside: translational implications of targeted intervertebral disc therapeutics,” J. Orthop. Translat., 2017, Apr., 10:18-27.
2. Perez-Cruet, et al, “Potential of human nucleus pulposus-like cells derived from umbilical cord to treat degenerative disc disease,” Neurosurgery, 2018, Feb., doi:10.1093/neuros/nyy012
3. Zeckser, et al, “Multipotent stem cell treatment for discogenic low back pain and disc degeneration,” Stem Cell Int., 2016, doi: 10.1155/2016/3908389
4. Knezevic, et al, “Treatment of chronic low back pain – new approaches on the horizon,” J. Pain Res., 2017, May 10, 10:1111-1123
5. Orozco, et al, “Intervertebral dis repair by autologous mesenchymal bone marrow cells: a pilot study,” Transplantation, 2011, Oct., 15, 92 (7):822-8
6. Yoshikawa, et al, “Disc regeneration therapy using marrow mesenchymal cell transplantation: a report of 2 cases,” Spine, 2010, May 15, 35 (11):E475-80
7. Pettiness, et al, “Percutaneous bone cell concentrate reduces discigenic lumbar pain through 12 months,” Stem Cell, 2015, 33(1):146-156
8. Noriega, et al, “Intervertebral disc repair by allogeneic mesenchymal bone marrow cells,” Transplantation, Aug., 2017, 101(8):1945-1951.

 

 

 

 

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Medical Practice

Returning to the sacred patient-physician relationship

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist

@VThornleyMD
https://neurologybuzz.com/

June 6, 2018

Introduction

Seeing physician burnout articles every page you swipe on social media, on physician online media groups, and in editorials of national syndicates are becoming the norm. Not to minimize it, it can become fairly discouraging reading about the fate of well-educated healers with only the noblest intentions becoming victims of the healthcare climate that is medicine today. Reading about these issues, one can become disengaged when you are in the throes of working.  It is when one becomes completely removed from the situation when you realize the extent of the dysfunctional system. Yes, the system is terrible, yes, there are too many regulations, too many middlemen, too many people getting in the way of the genuine whole-hearted connection between patient and physician. Where does that leave us and how can we rectify the situation?

Patient-physician relationship: the sacred relationship

It used to be that the relationship was between patient and physician. Patient and physician. There was no such thing as health insurances, no such thing as MOC, no such thing as EMR, no such thing as healthcare professionals. It was patient and physician. Physician and patient. Doctor and patient. Patient and doctor.

There was nothing to separate the physician from caring for his patients. Doctors used to travel with their doctor’s bags to their patient’s home, making house calls, being paid with services or what little the family had on their farms. Doctors took out their trusty stethoscopes and gave a healing balm, sometimes they helped their patients sometimes not, since the remedy was beyond the technology at the time. There was no such thing as malpractice insurance. No such thing as deductibles, no such thing as premiums, no such thing as clicking little boxes that sums up a human’s suffering. The relationship between a doctor and his patient was at its best and humblest-to care for the sick. Not to cure, not to treat but to comfort always. Absolutely nothing stood in the way between doctor and patient. That relationship was pure and untouched.

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Going back to your roots, back to the patient-physician relationship

How does one go back to this very sacred traditional relationship? If doctors do not realize this is a crisis situation where this very symbolic connection is being threatened by a huge number of many outside forces, they must be hiding under a rock. When one sees hundreds of articles on physician burnout, how to end the patient interview, courses on coding to get the most out of a visit, you know there is something utterly amiss with the system.  There will be the business end of the situation, you do have to pay for staff salaries, paper supplies etc, after all. But the physician-patient relationship is one of the most paramount human connections that cannot and should not be replaced. To heal and to comfort someone during their last few days, to determine if someone no longer has meaningful recovery after suffering from a massive myocardial infarct, to tell a patient they have a glioblastoma multiforme and there is very little chance of recovery, these are sensitive dealings that should not lay on an artificial robot, a medical substitute or a paramedical person. Important discussions like these should be with the physician. In order to have these important discussions, one must first have a relationship. One must never forget why we have entered medicine, to serve our patients. The human connection between a patient and physician is one of trust and hope. But how do we get back there when there are so many compelling factors threatening its very existence?

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Acknowledge there is a problem

A basic tenet of remedying a situation is to acknowledge that there is a problem. When one realizes the way one operates is not sustainable, your psyche will address the situation and make changes. If one stays in the limbo, the system can consume you and spit you out. Such are the sad cases of colleagues ruthlessly cut to be replaced with cheap labor by the upper business echelons.  Difficulties coping with this new unsatisfying overburdensome system leads to disillusioned physicians, who previously took pride in their work now reduced to electric circuits, cogs in a machine. And because physicians are perfectionists we feel like failures if we cannot cope. This leads to the worst case scenario which is to take your own life.

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We should find pride and satisfaction in what we do. Instead, there are now wellness programs which are a slap in the face placing the blame entirely on the physicians’ shoulders because we are unable to cope. Patients cannot fathom the extent of this medical crisis. All they know is that their physicians keep getting changed because of rapid turnover or a whole encounter is all of 10 minutes to summarize 10 complex problems. The answer lies within ourselves. Nobody can turnaround the situation except ourselves. If we want change we change our whole outlook, whole way of thinking and whole way of practice, it begins within ourselves.

Get rid of the middleman

I used to have a wonderful medical assistant, she did all the pre-questionnaires for me and dutifully entered it into the computer database. As the patient entered my office, I am guilty of saying,”hold on, let me read what my assistant typed” while the patient is seated, gob-smacked, looking at me silently. Looking back I can only shake my head and wonder,”wow, what was I thinking I sound like a cold robot,” which I was. All the boxes were checked perfectly, I did my neurological exam, whipped out my pad, scribbling 5 medications for 5 different symptoms, filled out MRI forms, went over the plan speaking as quickly as possible. Off my patient went on his merry old way, disillusioned and somehow left unfulfilled. Imagine this occurring 20 times a day. I was fried by the end of the day, my patients left dissatisfied and staff went through the office like hotel guests through revolving doors because of the tediousness that is medicine today. When I used to work in hospitals, residents did the pre-work-up as was part of their training, relationships were fleeting, care was in teams and rotations.

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Now, I see new patients for 1 hour, they are now eloquent, unique stories again, not templates that you copy and paste and change with a few details according to the patient. I let them expound until they have nothing left to say. I ask my part, perform my examination which is where the healing touch occurs that every patient subconsciously craves and we go over the plan. I answer all questions until there are no more. It is not uncommon for a patient to shake my hand heartfelt looking me in the eye thanking me. Other times, I receive a warm hug. It is not just as a courtesy gesture but a real expression of appreciation. While I did not cure them I provided so much more, the therapeutic healing relationship that exists between a patient and a doctor that no matter what happens I am now there for them. My heart warms and I modestly reply I didn’t do anything. But deep down I can feel the palpable difference. I have returned to the roots of medicine. I finally understand that this is what it is all about. I now listen to them. I listen to their own unique stories. I make eye contact and take in everything they have to say, the furrowing of their brows, the tone of their voices and I hear what they are saying. I now get comments how they are happy they found me their last doctor only took 5 minutes, while I muse to myself, I used to be that doctor. I remain neutral and non-judgmental, but I am now aware there is a simply better way of practicing now.

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How does one return to your roots

Going back to the basics of communication, human connection, one remembers the reason why you entered medicine. We are slowly replaced by parallel industries where practitioners of dubious training are hailed new miracle healers. Everybody is calling themselves doctors. They spend more time listening and are less regulated. We have lost the art of listening. It has gotten lost in the world of electronic recording, the need to generate copious amounts of data on one patient encounter, in the new team service approach. The unique relationship between doctor and patient is subsequently insidiously altered-soon to be extinct as doctors are slowly being replaced and encroached by other forces. But the solution is very simple, we must return to the country doctor model. Within the very listening provides great comfort. When comfort is achieved we have done our job. We may not cure or treat, but we always comfort. The paradigm shifts back to doctor and patient.

One more time cut out the middleman

I cannot emphasize it enough, cut out the middleman. Anything that keeps you apart from your patient widens the chasm and becomes a barrier, an impediment. Assistants, insurances, computers, physician extenders, these were never around before. When you strip it back down to the bare bones, you return to the rawest, purest form of medicine-the relationship between doctor and patient. Patient and doctor. We should go back to the country doctor model.

It is only then you will realize the depth that is medicine. Only then can we practice medicine the way it is supposed to be…between physician and patient. Patient and physician.

About

https://neurologybuzz.com/

Dr. Virginia Thornley is a Board-Certified Neurologist subspecializing in Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology in private practice. You can follow her on @VThornleyMD. To read more of her writings, visit https://neurologybuzz.com/

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Epilepsy

The effects of barometric pressure changes and other climate factors on the frequency of seizures

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist

June 3, 2018

Introduction

It is not common for a patient to complain of seizures seeming to increase immediately before a hurricane or a big storm. Do these changes truly correlate with outside environmental factors? This article seeks to review the literature to determine the cause and mechanisms of how weather risk factors might affect epilepsy and frequency of seizures.  There is a paucity of information of barometric effects and weather changes on exacerbation of seizure frequency.

Changes in atmospheric pressure correlated with seizures 

Atmospheric pressure is defined as the weight of the atmosphere. At sea level, it is 101,325 pascals, 14.5969 pounds/square inch or 1013.3 millibars. It is also referred to as barometric pressure.

In one article studying 191 patients, with an increase in atmospheric pressure variability, seizures were noted to increase. The atmospheric pressure was obtained from metropolitan weather stations in Seattle. The maximum, minimum and changes were correlated with the number of seizures being monitored in a telemetry unit over 2005-2006. Patients with known epilepsy had an odds ratio of 2.6 (p=0.02) if the atmospheric pressure varied over 5.5mBar (1).

Higher temperatures correlated with more febrile seizures

In another study of 108,628 pediatric patients from January 2005-December, 2015 were studied regarding the effect of barometric pressure on the frequency of seizures. They were classified as febrile seizures, afebrile, epilepsy or status epilepticus. 53% presented as febrile seizures while 5.9% presented as status epilepticus. Mean atmospheric pressure was 1015.5hPa over the 11 year period. The mean temperature was 14.7 degrees Celsius with a variation of 8.3 degrees Celsius throughout the day.  The study demonstrated febrile seizures were influenced by the temperature. At lower temperatures, the emergency room visits were less while at higher temperatures the visits increased (2).

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Low barometric pressure, high air humidity increases seizures, high ambient temperature improved seizures

In another study where temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity were correlated with seizure frequency, 604 patients were studied between 2006-2010. The study showed that with a 10.7hPa lower atmospheric pressure there was an increase in seizures by 14%. Those with less severe seizures had an increase of 36%. Relative humidity of >80% correlated with increased seizures of 48%. A high ambient temperature of more than 20 degrees Celsius reduced seizures by 46% (4).

Cold temperature worsen seizures

In a study of 30 patients ages (19-54), patients with epilepsy appeared to have more active seizures during the seasons of spring, autumn and winter and less during summer of about 7%. During stable weather, it was 43% patients and unstable weather 63% had seizures. EEG’s changes occurred more frequently during winter. During winter seizures increased by 40%, in spring it increased 40% and spring by 43.3% (3).

In summary

While anecdotally, there is a correlation of exacerbation of seizure frequency to weather changes, the literature shows mixed results and some of them are small in number. One study showed a correlation of changes of more than 5.5mBar in barometric pressure leading to increased seizures frequency, another showed that it is the reduction in the atmospheric pressure itself that increased seizures. 1 study showed that high humidity may increase seizures. 2 studies showed that cold temperatures worsened seizures, while 1 study showed that higher ambient temperature worsened febrile seizures.

The data that was demonstrated is not uniform in the acquisition of information and there is a large variety of conditions. One study was primarily taken from ER visits another was information from inpatient video EEG monitoring units where the subset of patients may be completely different. In addition, there is a wide heterogeneity in etiologies of seizures which comes into play. Regardless, patients know their own symptoms, usually, if something is noted to trigger an event is it probably real.

About

Introduction/Disclaimer

https://neurologybuzz.com/

Reference

  1. Doherty, et al, “Atmospheric pressure and seizure frequency in the epileptic unit: preliminary observations,” Epilepsia, 2007, Sep., 48 (9):1764-1767.
  2. Kim, et al, “The effects of weather on pediatric seizure; a single -center retrospective study,” Sci. Total Environ. , 2017, Dec., (609):535-540.
  3. Motta, et al, “Seizure frequency and bioelectric brain activity in epileptic patients in stable and unstable atmospheric pressure and temperature in different seasons of the year–a preliminary report,” Neurol. Neurochir. Pol, 2011, Nov.-Dec., 45(6):561-566.
  4. Rakers, et al, “Weather as a risk factor for epileptic seizures: a case-crossover study,” Epilepsia, 2017, Jul., 58(7): 1297-95.
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cannabidiol, Epilepsy

Scientific and clinical evidence of cannabidiol (CBD) and seizure control: mechanisms, randomized controlled clinical trials, open label trials and animal models

Virginia Thornley, M.D., Neurologist, Epileptologist 

@VThornleyMD

May 22, 2018

Introduction

There are numerous scientific studies that have studied the effect of cannabidiol by itself on seizure control encompassing animal models, longitudinal observational studies, case series and currently randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled clinical trials. It is difficult to ignore the wealth of information regarding the medical value of cannabidiol with a significant role in the treatment of epilepsy.

The endocannabinoid pathway and cannabinoids

The endocannabinoid pathway is found naturally within our system, comprising of receptors, transporters, and endocannabinoids. It is responsible for the sense of well-being one gets after running referred to as the “runner’s high,” and not endorphins, serotonin or noradrenergic neurotransmitters as their molecular sizes are too large to pass through the blood-brain barrier. There are 2 types of receptors, CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 is found predominantly within the nervous system and is the receptor on which tetrahydrocannabinol works and it is through this binding where psychoactive properties arise. There are two metabolites within the endocannabinoid pathway, anandamide for which tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is a phytomimetic and 2-arachidonoyl-glycerol for which cannabidiol is a phytomimetic. Cannabidiol (CBD) acts as an inverse agonist on the CB1 receptor, with a weak affinity. 100 times of cannabidiol is needed to get the same psychoactive properties as tetrahydrocannabinol. When CBD is combined with THC the side effects of paranoia, hyperactivity and agitation become less because it is an inverse agonist of the CB1 receptor. In many animal studies, cannabidiol has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative and neuroprotective actions within the nervous system (8).

Mechanisms by which cannabidiol works 

It is thought to modulate the neurotransmitter system. Endocannabinoids are increased as a result if hyperexcitability in the nervous system. CBD can regulate intracellular calcium during hyperexcitability states in the hippocampus in the temporal lobe. CBD can regulate NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptor transmission and increase serotonergic 5HT-1A (5-hydroxytryptamine)receptor transmission and reduces GABA, 5-HT1A, and norepinephrine synaptic uptake (9). Cannabidiol is thought to be neuroprotective through its role in controlling intracellular calcium. Excess calcium can activate a cascade of neurochemical events leading to cell degeneration and death through lipases, endonucleases, and proteases. In one study in rat models, there was a suggestion that treatment of seizures was not just at the neurotransmitter level but also modulates the oscillatory nature, neuronal loss and post-ictal lethargy of the status epilepticus model.

Scientific evidence in animal models

Animal studies show that the effectiveness of cannabis is at the level of the CB1 receptor. With the deletion of the CB1 receptors in the forebrain excitatory neurons in the mice model, Kainate-induced seizures were more prominent. The presence of CB1 receptors in the hippocampal gyrus seems to protect against Kainate-induced seizures. Viral-induced CB1 overexpression resulted in less Kainate-induced seizures, CA pyramidal cell 3 cell death. This demonstrates that the presence of the CB1 receptor can limit seizures and reduces gliosis and apoptosis (4).

 

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In animal studies, the CB1 receptors increased 1 week after pilocarpine-induced seizures in the CA1-3 striatum oriens and the dentate gyrus. Patients with temporal lobe epilepsy had reduced Anandamide and increased CB1 receptors suggesting an up-regulation of the CB1 receptor as a homeostatic mechanism in the presence of seizures which can reduce excitatory neurotransmitters (4). This compensatory mechanism may be impaired with long-standing seizures and hippocampal sclerosis and refractoriness to pharmacologic measures.

Case series report

In a small study on patients with tumors with seizures, in 3 patients who were medically refractory were started on cannabidiol (Epidiolex) to treat seizures. 2 out of the 3 had improvement in seizures while all 3 had improvement in the severity in the University of Alabama (2).

Evidence in longitudinal observational studies

In one study of 57 patients, ages 1-20 years old, CBD:THC was given at a ratio of 20:1 with the CBD component of 11.4 mg/kg/day. The patients were followed longitudinally for 3 months with a follow-up time of 18 months. 56% or 26 patients had <50% reduction of seizures. No difference was noted between the causes of the seizure and the type of cannabis used. Younger ages of 10 years old and below had a statistically better outcome compared to an older age. Those with higher doses of CBD of >11.4mg/kg/day had a statistically better outcome compared to 11.4mg/kg/day and below. There were side effects in about 46% of patients leading to stopping the protocol. These studies suggest that cannabidiol enriched treatment may be beneficial in seizure control particularly in the pediatric population.  (1).

Open-label studies

In an open-label trial, 214 patients were studied between the ages 1-30, with pharmacoresistant epilepsy. There were 162 in the safety follow-up of 12 weeks, 137 were in the efficacy analysis. For the safety group, 33 had Dravet syndrome and 31 had Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. The rest had medically refractory seizures from different causes. Side effects were mild to moderate including diarrhea, lack of appetite, somnolence, fatigue, and convulsion. 5 had a cessation of treatment related to adverse effects. Serious events were reported in 48 patients with 1 death unrelated to cannabidiol. 20 had severe adverse effect including status epilepticus. The median number of seizures at baseline was 30 which was reduced to 15 per month with a 36.5% reduction of motor seizures (7).

Evidence in randomized controlled clinical trials 

In a multi-country study was performed on Dravet syndrome and effect of cannabidiol in a randomized double-blind trial of cannabidiol versus placebo and in young adults between the ages of 2-18. Dravet syndrome is an epileptic syndrome involving myoclonic epilepsy during childhood which may progress attributed to an SCN1A gene abnormality. There was a 4 week baseline period followed by a 14 week treatment period. The dosages of cannabidiol were increased gradually to 20mg/kg/day. Those in the cannabidiol group was matched to a placebo control. The endpoints were the percentage of change and Caregiver Global Impression of Change (CGIC). In 23 center in the U.S. and in Europe, 120 patients underwent randomization, mean age was 9.8 years old. 108 completed treatment. The median number of drugs was 3 and the most commonly taken were clobazam, valproate, stiripentol, levetiracetam, and topiramate. The most common type of seizures was generalized tonic-clonic followed by secondary generalized tonic-clonic seizures. 114/118 children presented with developmental delay. Adverse reactions were mild to moderate including somnolence, diarrhea and loss of appetite. Elevated liver enzymes were found in those taking valproate likely related to drug-drug interactions. The reduction of seizures was considered meaningful while no change in non-convulsive episodes was noted. In the cannabidiol group, convulsive seizures reduced from 12.4 seizures to 5.9 per month while the placebo control group had a reduction of seizures from 14.9 to 14.1 which was not statistically significant. A reduction of more than 50% of seizures occurred in 43% of patients in the cannabidiol group and 27% in the control cohort. 3 patients in the cannabidiol group and no one in the placebo group became free of seizures. 62% of caregivers thought the condition improved in the cannabidiol group as opposed to 34% in the placebo group (5).

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Another randomized placebo-controlled trial in Lennox-Gastaut syndrome was done using cannabidiol versus placebo. Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome is characterized by multiple seizure types with a slow spike and wave of 2.5 Hz or slower on EEG.  This study covered 30 clinical trial centers between the ages 2-55 with 2 or more seizures per week over 28 days. 225 patients were randomized with 76 in the group for cannabidiol at 20mg/kg/day, 73 in the cannabidiol group at 10mg/kg/day and 76 in the placebo cohort. The reduction in median of drop attacks was 41.9% in the 20mg cannabidiol group, 37% in the 10mg cannabidiol group and 17.2% in the placebo group which was statistically significant. Side effects were somnolence, diarrhea and poor appetite which was dose-related. 9% had higher liver function tests. The study concluded that addition of cannabidiol of either 10mg/kg/day or 20mg/kg/day in addition to standard anti-epileptic agents resulted in a significant reduction of seizures(6).

Cannabidiol as an add-on adjunct for refractory seizures

In another study in Slovenia, add-on cannabidiol was given to 66 patients who were deemed medically refractory at a dosage of 8mg/kg/day. 32 or 48% of patients experienced fewer seizures of more than 50% reduction. 14 (21%) were seizure free. No patient had to worsen and 15 or 22.7% there was no effect. Patients reported less robust seizures, less recovery time and less time duration of the seizures as positive outcomes. Adverse effects were seen in 5 patients or 0.07% of patients. They concluded that there are some beneficial effects of cannabidiol as an add-on adjunctive treatment in controlling medically refractory epilepsy(3). However, this study focused on cannabidiol as an adjunctive treatment, not as monotherapy.  Regardless, there are some beneficial aspects as evidenced in this study (3).

In summary

There is growing evidence that cannabidiol which is the non-psychoactive component of the Cannabis sativa plant is effective in treating intractable seizures, from the mouse model to randomized controlled clinical trials, which can no longer be ignored. There are mostly mild to moderate side effects involving the gastointestinal and neuropsychiatric system, although severe adverse outcomes include status epilepticus. There were no fatal outcomes associated with the use of cannabidiol. The real question are the long-term side effects and drug-drug interactions which can be studied once the cannabidiol is well-established as a conventional agent in the future.

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References:

  1. Hausman-Kedem, M., et al, “Efficacy of CBD-enriched medical cannabis for treatment of refractory epilepsy in children and adolescents – an observational longitudinal study,” Brain Dev., 2018 Apr., pii:S0387-7604 (18)30112-8 doi: 10.1016/j.braindev2018.03.013. (Epub ahead of print)
  2. Warren, et al, “The use of cannabidiol for seizure management in patients with brain tumor-related epilepsy,” Neurocase, 2017, Oct.-Dec., 23 (5-6):287-291.
  3. Neubauer, D., et al, “Cannabidiol for treatment of refractory childhood epilepsies: experience from a single tertiary epilepsy center in Slovenia,” Epilepsy Behav., 2018 Apr., 81:79-85. doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2018.02.009. (Epub ahead of print)
  4. Rosenberg, et al, “Cannabinoids and epilepsy,” Neurotherapeutics, 2015, Oct., 12 (4):747-768.
  5. Devinsky, O., et al, “Trial of cannabidiol for drug-resistant seizures in the Dravet Syndrome,” New England Journal of Medicine, 2017, 376: 2011-2020.
  6. Devinsky, et al, “Effect of cannabidiol on drop seizures in the Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome,” NEJM, 2018, May,  378:1888-1897.
  7. Devinsky, et al, “Cannabidiol in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy: an open label interventional trial,” Lancet Neurology, 2016, Mar., 15 (3):270-8.
  8. Fernandez-Ruiz, et al, “Prospects of cannabinoid therapies in basal ganglia disorder,” British Journal of Pharmacology, 2011, Aug., 163 (7):1365-1378.
  9. Do Val-da-Silva, et al, “Protective effects of cannabidiol against seizures and neuronal death in a rat model of mesial temporal lobe epilepsy,” Front. Pharmacol., 2017, 8:131.
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