SASKATOON — Thirty children from across Canada are being recruited to take part in a new pilot study at the University of Saskatchewan looking at the safety and tolerability of cannabis treatment for childhood epilepsy.
Health Canada recently approved the study, which will include children between the ages of one to 10 years and involve the University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, McGill University and Université de Montréal.
It is scheduled to start in June.
University of Saskatchewan pediatric neurologist Dr. Richard Huntsman says he's already seen quite a few children whose parents have already placed their children on cannabis oil.
He says he's hearing the children are brighter, more interactive and sleeping better, but scientists don't yet know why.
Doctors will slowly introduce cannabis oil to the children with dosage increments each month, while monitoring for potential side effects of the medication.
They will also look at seizure frequency and severity.
Huntsman admits his cannabis research has been met with pushback, but he says the trials are necessary as parents become desperate for answers.
"We had feedback from scientists saying we shouldn't be doing this. We shouldn't be studying this in children, which I disagree with completely," Huntsman says.
"Parents are seeing this, they're reading about this. It's all over social media … and a lot of them are trying it. And in some situations, possibly in a dangerous manner.”
The study is entirely funded with support from several organizations, including a sizeable grant from the Children's Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan.
“We felt it would be best if this wasn't funded by any drug company, so that removes any potential bias," Huntsman says.
Alexander Repetski of Thornhill, Ont., says cannabis oil treatments for epilepsy have dramatically improved his daughter's quality of life.
She was diagnosed at three months of age, and doctors started her on first-line treatments, trying nine different traditional medications over ten months, but none worked.
"She was basically a two-year-old at this point and almost in a vegetative state," says Repetski. "She was a two-year-old who could not crawl or sit on her own."
He says he came across cannabis as a possible treatment during his research on her condition. But while doctors eventually agreed to prescribe the drug, they couldn’t offer education on the product.
"They could not give me any information in terms of dosing, interactions with other drugs, so I basically had to figure out all of that myself," he says.
Two years into the treatment, Repetski says his daughter’s quality of life has improved dramatically.
"She gone from having 50 seizures a day, to having a very mild seizure a couple of times a year,” he says. "While she still has lots of issues and challenges with cognitive delay, she's now running, jumping, attends kindergarten with an assistant.”
Chris Carr, CKOM, The Canadian Press