Reprint from Salt Lake City Telegram, May 20, 1949
Drug principles isolated from leaves of marijuana, an innocent-looking plant that grows wild in different parts of the world, are playing an important role in research on a cure for epilepsy.
This is the same marijuana which so many people fear as a habit-forming drug and which is noted for the opium-like dreams it produces in those who partake of it.
The drugs being used are synthetic substances related to cannabinol, which is contained in marijuana, but does not produce the same effects. Dr. Jean P. Davis, faculty researcher at the University of Utah medical college, has done considerable research with the drugs in treatment of minor and convulsive epilepsy.
She reports that the drugs have been found effective about 50% of the time. Future for epileptics appears “very bright,” she said, “because of not only one new drug, but a whole field of new compounds to combat epileptic seizures.”
Helps Minor Seizures
One of these new drugs, trimethadione, is most effective in petit mal epilepsy, minor seizures common in younger patients. Another, paramethadione, a sort of second cousin to the first, is useful in such spells.
A third compound, called phenerone, is effective in psycho-motor seizures, sudden episodes of unusual behavior, accompanied by amnesia.
Epilepsy comes in four degrees: grand mal, or pykno-epilepsy, with brief staring spells; psycho-motor, accompanied by amnesia and unusual behavior, and Jacksonian, identified by retention of consciousness with progressive twitching and numbness of one leg or arm.
Mr. Davis is in charge of a section of the psychiatric clinic at Salt Lake General hospital, where she does some clinical work. She also instructs advanced courses in the departments of pharmacology and physiology at the university.
Began in 1929
According to Dr. Davis, actual valuable research with modern methods of fighting epilepsy came into their own in 1929 with the invention of the electro-encephalograph, an instrument for recording brain activity.
And the latest of the compounds used in treatment of the affliction was developed in 1948. Meanwhile, research is advancing at a rapid pace, Dr. Davis said.
She studied for three years under Dr. William Lennox, one of the top U.S. experts on epilepsy. She received her doctor of medicine degree at Yale university in 1943.
Most of her clinical work has been confined to children, with whom she “likes to work.”
BY JEAN P. DAVIS, M.D., and H.H. RAMSEY, M.D.
The demonstration of anticonvulsant activity of the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) congeners by laboratory tests (Loewe and Goodman, Federation Proc. 6:352, 1947 ) prompted clinical trial in five institutionalized epileptic children.
All of them had severe symptomatic grand ma1 epilepsy with mental retardation; three had cerebral palsy in addition. Electroencephalographic tracings were grossly abnormal in the entire group; three had focal seizure activity. Their attacks had been inadequately controlled on 0.13 gm. Of phenobarbital daily, combined with 0.3 gm. of Dilantin per day in two of the patients, and in a third, with 0.2 gm. Of Mesantoin daily. Two isomeric 3 (1,2-dimethyl heptyl) homologs of THC were tested, Numbers 122 and 125A, with ataxia potencies fifty and eight times, respectively, that of natural marijuana principles. Number 122 was given to two patients for three weeks and to three patients for seven weeks. Three responded at least as well as to previous therapy; the fourth became almost completely and the fifth entirely seizure free. One patient, transferred to 125A after three weeks, had prompt exacerbation of seizures during the ensuing four weeks, despite dosages up to 4 mg. daily. The second patient transferred to 125A was adequately controlled on this dosage, except for a brief period of paranoid behavior three and a half weeks later; similar episodes had occurred prior to cannabinol therapy. Other psychic disturbances or toxic reactions were not manifested during the periods of treatment. Blood counts were normal.
The cannabinols herein reported deserve further trial in non-institutionalized epileptics.
Reprinted from Federation Proceedings, Federation of American Society for Experimental Biology, vol. 8, lY49, p. 284.