A British company which have been working for nearly two decades with medical marijuana believes that it has made a major breakthrough in the treatment of childhood epilepsy.
GW Pharmaceuticals, which has a licence from the Home Office to grow cannabis, announced final-stage tests on 120 children with Dravet syndrome (a type of epilepsy) had successfully reduced seizures by 39 per cent.
Phase 3 trials of the drug had been anticipated in the medical community, as excitement grew about the potential of this transformative treatment.
In particular, it is valuable for medical marijuana to deliver a cure for what is considered to be a painful and dangerous condition.
Dravet sufferers have to take a cocktail of medicines, but still suffer an average of 13 seizures a month.
The tests conducted represent a major breakthrough after many problematical years seeking a solution to the problem.
Only in January, another of its treatments, Sativex, failed tests which were hoped to show it helping alleviate pain in cancer sufferers.
And the city has already responded positively to the development, with the stock price of the company rising exponentially.
Shares in the company jumped 136% after the breakthrough announcement.
Justin Gover, the chief executive of GW, outlined the plans of the company for further trials, and asserted that the breakthrough in the Phase 3 trial should be considered a major medical milestone.
“The positive outcome of the Phase 3 trial “is a significant milestone in the development of Epidiolex as a potential new treatment for patients suffering with Dravet syndrome.”
Other trials are now underway for the epileptic condition of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, while the ability of the company to treat tuberous sclerosis complex will also be tested shortly.
Although these are not particularly well-known conditions, the extent of the condition tested in the UK is actually significantly wider than many might imagine.
Around 150,000 people suffer from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome in the UK.
However, despite the relatively widespread nature of this condition, epilepsy is generally considered to be a significantly larger area of need.
With this in mind, GW has already been able to acquire $500 million of new equity in the United States in order to fund the latest raft of trials.
The Dravet drug should be on the market by the end of next year in the US and soon after that in Europe.
GW is headquartered in London but has laboratories in Cambridge and Porton Down.
The company has been working on its epilepsy cures since 2013 and began to develop the Epidiolex syrup in October 2014.
Scientists at King’s College London have found that smoking cannabis can cause significant brain damage.
Researchers assessed the damage on brain functioning caused by particular variants of super-strength marijuana.
The so-called ‘skunk’ version of the substance was found to damage the corpus calossum.
This is the region of the brain that carries signals between the brain’s left and right sides.
Researchers found that continually consuming the skunk variant of marijuana will lead to an increased risk of mental illness and psychotic symptoms.
Additionally, the likelihood of hallucinations and brain activity being significantly slowed down are also increased.
It was also notable during the experiment that the strength of this particular brand of cannabis had seemingly increased significantly.
The scientists found higher levels of the chemical Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol – also known as THC – in skunk than had been present ten years ago.
Commenting on the results, Dr Paola Dazzan, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at KCL, who led the study, observed that smoking this particular form of marijuana had a significant influence over brain functioning.
“We found that frequent use of high potency cannabis significantly affects the structure of white matter fibres in the brain, whether you have psychosis or not. This reflects a sliding scale where the more cannabis you smoke and the higher the potency, the worse the damage will be.”
Researchers utilised imaging technology in order to examine the brain structure of 56 patients based at the South London and Maudsley Foundation Trust.
Each of these 56 individuals were presently exhibiting at some of the symptoms of psychosis.
Additionally, 43 further healthy brains from volunteers were examined by way of comparison.
All participants were in their late twenties, with half of the healthy patients having already admitted to smoking cannabis.
This compared to 70 per cent of the people in the group experiencing psychosis.
Dr Tiago Reis Marques, a senior research fellow at KCL, confirmed the findings of the researchers; that brain function and structure was damaged in the regular cannabis users.
“The white matter damage was significantly greater among heavy users of high potency cannabis than in occasional or low potency users.”
The researchers said the findings indicated an “urgent need” to educate the public about the dangers of repeated high-potency cannabis use.
Conversely, pro-cannabis campaigners tend to characterise the issue of marijuana consumption as one of liberty and personal choice.
The benefits of decriminalising cannabis in several countries and numerous American states have been well documented.
Additionally, the damaged caused by other legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco would seem to vastly dwarf the dangers of cannabis.
New research suggests that people who use marijuana may be more likely to develop prediabetes than those who have never smoked the substance.
A paper published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes) assesses a sample of 3,000 people across the United States.
And the findings of the study were that adults currently using marijuana work 65 per cent more likely to suffer from the form of poor sugar control that can lead to Type II diabetes.
Those involved in the study who no longer smoked cannabis, but had used it 100 times or more in their lifetime, also have a significantly higher chance of developing their condition.
This was found to be around 50 per cent greater than those who have never consumed marijuana in any form.
The study ultimately found that “marijuana use was associated with the development and prevalence of prediabetes after adjustment. Specifically, occurrence of prediabetes in middle adulthood was significantly elevated for individuals who reported using marijuana in excess of 100 times by young adulthood.”
However, although there was a high incidence of prediabetes indicated by the study, the research failed to establish a direct link between Type 2 diabetes and marijuana usage.
The authors, led by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health’s Mike Bancks, said: “It is unclear how marijuana use could place an individual at increased risk for prediabetes yet not diabetes.”
Thus, some confusion still reigns over the result of the study.
Data was gleaned from a group of more than 3,000 US citizens, all of whom are collectively participating in a study called the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults.
Each of these individuals were aged between 18 and 30 when they were recruited in 1985-86, and have now been participating for 30 years straight.
The percentage of those reporting use of marijuana among the group has declined significantly over the decades in which they have been involved in this huge piece of research.
Although there seems to be little understanding regarding how marijuana could be linked with prediabetes and not tied to diabetes, authors of the paper did at least suggest some possible reasons for this.
The paper proposes that the lack of a link to type 2 diabetes could be because individuals excluded from the study had higher levels of marijuana use and greater potential for development of diabetes.
Additionally, it is possible that marijuana usage may have a larger affect on blood-sugar control in the prediabetic range than for full, type 2 diabetes.
3.2 million UK adults have been diagnosed as being diabetic, with this figure expected to increase to 5 million by 2025.
But Europe’s EMCDDA drug agency suggested in its annual report on drug use in the continent, published in June 2015, that cannabis use among 15 to 34 year olds has halved in the UK over the last 15 years.
It is thought that this could be due to smoking-related legislation.
Despite pro-cannabis protestors acquiring a sizeable petition to request changes to the existing law related to the substance, the UK government has recently signalled its unwillingness to bow to their arguments.
The 200,000-strong petition called for the commonly consumed and naturally occurring substance, that is currently officially classified as a drug, to be legalised.
But the government responded to the petition by stating that it has no plans to alter the existing law.
The petition in question was hosted on the government’s official e-petitions website, yet the apparently strong response to it has not provoked a favourable response from the government.
An official statement on the subject stated: “Substantial scientific evidence shows cannabis is a harmful drug that can damage human health. There are no plans to legalise cannabis as it would not address the harm to individuals and communities.”
The government also suggested that legalisation would “send the wrong message to the vast majority of people who do not take drugs, especially young and vulnerable people.”
Nonetheless, having obtained more than the requisite 100,000 signatures, it is now incumbent upon MPs to consider debating the issue further in parliament.
Petitioners argued that legalising cannabis could raise in the region of £1 billion in savings on an annual basis, via taxation and the reduction in expenditure of policing drugs.
However, the government rejected this argument, claiming that any financial benefits derived from the legalisation of cannabis would be outweighed by the cost of administrative, compliance and law enforcement activities, as well as drug prevention and health services.
It must be said that this last claim seems extremely dubious, and one would like to see some figures from the government to even remotely support it.
Certainly Peter Reynolds, president of Clear UK, a cannabis policy group, considered the government’s arguments to be ill-founded, describing them as “dishonest, misleading and deceptive”. Reynolds added “despite the fact that [the petition received] more than twice the threshold required, MPs will fight tooth and nail to stop this being debated.”
However, Jason Reed, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) UK stated his belief that there had been a sea change in the public attitude with regard to reclassifying the legal status of cannabis.
Reed stated: “There will be a preliminary debate which hopefully we’ll get MPs along to. This still serves a purpose on educating the public about the merits of drug law reform. There has been a groundswell of support in grassroots action and the public are starting to get it.”
While the legal status of cannabis remains a contentious issue, the policy of legalisation has been successfully implemented in both mainland Europe and North America.
An in 2013, an Ipsos Mori poll indicated that 53 per cent of the public supported a softer stance on the substance.
However, a 20-year study conducted by World Health Organisation expert advisor on addiction Wayne Hall found that cannabis is addictive and can cause mental health problems.