Cannabidiol (CBD), a compound derived from the cannabis plant, does not impair cognitive functioning when used in the treatment of children with intractable epilepsy, according to new research published in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior.
Previous research has found that CBD can reduce the number of seizures in patients with epilepsy. But the potential cognitive side-effects of long-term CBD use had not been examined in pediatric populations.
“This topic was interesting to me because it provided me with an opportunity to participate in a project that potentially offered some hope to children who had seizures who had not previously responded to multiple other medications,” said researcher Matthew Thompson, a clinical neuropsychologist at Children’s of Alabama hospital.
“Also, most of these children were not good candidates for surgical intervention, so CBD had the potential to offer some relief in terms of seizure control for many children. But we wanted to make sure there were no adverse cognitive consequences of this new medication.”
The study examined 38 participants between the ages of 3 and 19 years with treatment-resistant epilepsy who were enrolled in an open-label study of a pharmaceutical CBD formulation.
“The CBD product we used (Epidiolex) was a pharmaceutical-grade product that is available only by prescription. It is important for readers to know that this wasn’t the product you might purchase over the counter; instead, it is produced by a regulated pharmaceutical company, such that we know the precise concentration of CBD,” Thompson explained.
Prior to initiating CBD and one year later, 14 participants completed a computerized test of cognitive abilities that assessed attention/working memory, executive function, episodic memory, and language. A primary caregiver completed a behavior assessment instrument for the other 24 participants, who were not capable of completing computerized testing because of the magnitude of their impairment.
After one year of continuous CBD use, the researchers observed no significant changes in the cognitive performance or functional adaptive status of the participants.
“I believe the most important take away from this study is that CBD does not appear to cause any adverse cognitive changes in most children who have this medication prescribed for intractable epilepsy,” Thompson told PsyPost.
“We still need more information on a larger group of higher functioning children. Many of the children in this study were very impaired from a cognitive perspective, and this level of impairment made it difficult to detect changes in cognitive function; thus we had to rely on parent report of daily functioning, which has limitations.”
The study, “Cognitive function and adaptive skills after a one-year trial of cannabidiol (CBD) in a pediatric sample with treatment-resistant epilepsy“, was authored by Matthew D. Thompson, Roy C. Martin, Leslie P. Grayson, Steve B. Ampah, Gary Cutter, Jerzy P. Szaflarski, and E. Martina Bebin.