Introduction: CDKL5 Deficiency Disorder (CDD) is a severe treatment-resistant form of early-onset epilepsy. Current treatment options are often ineffective and associated with adverse effects, forcing families to seek alternative therapies for their children including products derived from cannabis. Reportsof miraculous cures and a public preferencefor 'natural' therapies have resulted in considerable public interest, and so this study aimed to characterize the use of cannabis in these individuals, as well as compare caregiver perceptions of efficacy and safety to objective evidence of seizure control and number of antiepileptic drugs used.
Methods: Families from the International CDKL5 Disorder Database were invited to complete questionnaires which included data relating to their child's current and past treatments, including use of any cannabis-derived preparations. Perceived effects on seizure control, as well as additional benefits and adverse effects were reported. Seizure frequency and number of antiepileptic drugs were compared between those actively using cannabis products and those who were not. Longitudinal analysis was performed on a subset of the study population to compare these same variables at pre-treatment and post-treatment time points.
Results: Three hundred and twelve caregivers answered questions regarding their child's use of antiepileptic medications. Of these, 82 (26%) described use of cannabis preparations either at present, or in the past, with the most common being cannabidiol. Of 70 caregivers that described their perceived effect on seizure control, more than two thirds reported an improvement in seizure control, either temporary (16%) or lasting (54%). Additional benefits included improvements in attention, cognition, and sleep. The majority of responses (78%) described adverse effects as 'none', though some reported an increase in sedation and gastrointestinal upset. There was no reduction in the median seizure frequency nor the number of different antiepileptic drugs, for those who were actively using cannabis products compared to those who were not. Similarly, individuals who were not using cannabis products at an initial time point had no differences in seizure frequency nor number of antiepileptic drugs at a second timepoint when they had started using this treatment.
Conclusions: Although this is an observational study, limited by potential participation bias and the unreliable nature of unblinded self-assessment, it suggests that caregivers perceive cannabis products, especially cannabidiol, to have a tolerable adverse effect profile and adequate efficacy. Despite this, cannabis was not associated with a reduction in seizure frequency nor number of antiepileptic drugs when compared to non-users or when compared to pre-treatment. Randomized controlled trials are urgently needed to more reliably assess this treatment's safety and efficacy.
Keywords: CDKL5; Cannabidiol; Cannabinoid; Medical marijuana; Seizure; Tetrahydrocannabinol.
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