Cannabis oil is helping Utah’s epilepsy patients, though it isn’t eliminating seizures, U. survey finds

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah-based company Dose of Nature is launching a line of legal Cannabidiol products made from industrial hemp extract. The CBD or Cannabidiol is one of the products available for the treatment of pediatric epilepsy, autism and other neurological conditions.

A group of Utah epilepsy patients report cannabis oil use is scaling back their seizures, though perhaps not to the extent lawmakers anticipated when they passed a 2014 bill legalizing the substance for this specific use.

The recent University of Utah survey found 73 percent of patients reported a noticeable reduction in seizures after taking the hemp extract along with other seizure-reducing medication.

One-fifth of respondents said their seizures were almost completely controlled, and the rest said they’d noticed either a somewhat or slight decrease in the number of seizures due to the oil. About 30 percent reported the severity of their seizures had dramatically decreased.

“It is notable that no serious life-threatening adverse effects were reported” from using the oil, said Francis Filloux, a U. professor of pediatric neurology who led the survey, which was funded by the Utah Department of Health. He added a majority of respondents reported the oil provided a positive benefit, such as improved sleep and alertness.

But Filloux also noted the results should not be interpreted as a robust scientific study. He told the Utah Legislature’s health interim committee Wednesday that only 46 patients — out of 139 Utahns holding a cannabis oil card — responded to the U.’s mailed survey, and their results were based only on their own perceived level of seizure improvement.

The survey is part of a larger push by the lawmakers to obtain more data on medical marijuana before introducing broader legislation. Previous efforts to legalize medical marijuana for limited uses have failed in the Republican-dominated statehouse, though a proposed 2018 ballot initiative for medical legalization continues to move forward.

Filloux acknowledged the survey showed reported seizure improvement due to hemp oil “seems modest at best,” something he indicated other scientific studies had also found.

Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, seized on the comment.

“We’ve not hurt the patients, for sure,” he told Filloux. “The question is have we helped them as much as you lobbied us that they would be helped? ... I’m not hearing glowing reports of the benefit.”

The committee also heard an update from the Cannabinoid Product Board, created earlier this year to evaluate safety and efficacy of cannabis health products. But in their report, board members indicated they had yet to make much progress, in large part due to narrow rules on what products Utah legislators said it could study.

Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, said tweaks would be proposed in the upcoming session to allow the board more research leeway. He also said he planned to introduce several other marijuana bills, including one that would allow the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to grow some of its own marijuana for research purposes.

He said he also planned to introduce legislation that would give cannabinoid oil access to those with terminal conditions who are nearing death.