Dr John Whitehall
Refractory epilepsy used to be considered a curse: it still is a curse and, though blame has moved from magic to molecule, it remains one of life’s great afflictions. It is not surprising, therefore, that parents of an afflicted child will consider all possibilities for cure. But what should be made of recent publicity that “medical marijuana” has stopped convulsions and reduced associated brain dysfunction in two children in such miraculous manner that its advantages deserve to be available not only for epilepsy but for all kinds of other diseases?….
…Can marijuana prevent fits? Despite the rare but exciting anecdotes, no one knows, because no reliable trials have been published anywhere in the world, according to the reputable Cochrane system of review. The drug has been available for medical purposes, including epilepsy, in California for almost twenty years and is now available in twenty-two US states, but there is nothing to report! Despite repeated claims of “potential” for the drug, there is silence, though all humanity is crying out for better anti-epileptic drugs. This silence could mean there is no convincing effect, or that the doctors who prescribe it have no idea of what is happening to their so-called patients. If it were a miracle drug, it could be expected that the purveyors of marijuana would trumpet statistical success….
…. On perhaps a churlish note, another problem for rushed research on cannabis might be the opinion of “ethics committees” which must approve research in hospitals and universities. It would be interesting to see response to an application for a trial on children of a substance you could not chemically define, for effect that might not be obvious, with known ability to shrink a brain or precipitate madness, and create dependence in 9 per cent, complicated by the expectation of sudden death, underpinned by contradictory effects on animals, and all because it seemed a wonderful idea to the media, and had the support of a few politicians! I had to wait for over twelve months for approval of a study that merely questioned volunteering mothers when they initiated solid foods to their offspring!
….I would like to close by saying that in almost fifty years of medicine I have seen almost more than I can bear of brain-damaged and dying human beings. I believe relief of pain is one of the greatest benefits a doctor can share, and scientific evaluation one of the greatest gifts we all enjoy. I think, therefore, we should wait a little longer for scientific revelation of the effects of the components of the natural herb and then, if positive, use them lavishly. In the meantime, we should not unleash a destructive force despite the persuasion of anecdote.