Cannabidiol reveals a disruptive strategy for 21st century epilepsy drug discovery

Exp Neurol. 2023 Feb;360:114288. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2022.114288. Epub 2022 Nov 26.


Over 30 antiseizure medicines (ASMs) have been uncovered in a diversity of preclinical seizure and epilepsy models, with several critical inflection points in the 20th century fundamentally transforming ASM discovery. This commentary aims to review the historical relevance of cannabidiol's (CBD; Epidiolex) approval for epilepsy in the context of other ASMs brought to market. Further, we highlight how CBD's approval may represent an inflection point for 21st century ASM discovery. CBD is one of the main phytocannabinoids of Cannabis sativa. Unlike its related phytocannabinoid, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, CBD does not exert any euphorigenic, tolerance, or withdrawal effects at anticonvulsant doses. CBD also possess marked anti-inflammatory effects, offering the tantalizing potential of a new pharmacological approach in epilepsy. For decades, hints of the anticonvulsant profile of CBD had been suggested with a small handful of studies in rodent seizure models, yet difficulties in formulation, compounded by the social and regulatory pressures related to medical use of cannabis plant-derived agents constrained any clinical implementation. Nonetheless, CBD possesses a broad antiseizure profile in preclinical seizure and epilepsy models, but the transformative impact of CBD'-s approval came because of studies in a rodent model of the orphan disease Dravet syndrome (DS). DS is a pediatric developmental epileptic encephalopathy with high mortality, frequent spontaneous recurrent seizures, and marked resistance to conventional ASMs, such as phenytoin and carbamazepine. CBD was approved for DS by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2018 after convincing efficacy was established in randomized, placebo-controlled trials in children. Because of the clinical approval of CBD as a novel, cannabis plantderived ASM for DS, CBD has revealed a new strategy in ASM discovery to reignite 21st century therapeutic development for epilepsy. In this commentary, we review the major preclinical and clinical milestones of the late 20th century that made CBD, a compound historically subjected to regulatory restrictions, a key driver of a new discovery strategy for epilepsy in the 21st century.

Keywords: Dravet syndrome; Fenfluramine; Kindling; Maximal electroshock; Pentylenetetrazol; Phenobarbital; Phenytoin.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacology
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Cannabidiol* / pharmacology
  • Cannabidiol* / therapeutic use
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Epilepsies, Myoclonic* / drug therapy
  • Epilepsy* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Seizures / drug therapy


  • Cannabidiol
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists