The FDA has approved the nation’s first medication based on an active ingredient from marijuana. The drug, Epidiolex, is intended to treat seizures resulting from Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, two rare forms of epilepsy. The medication has been approved for patients aged two years or older and marks the first time the agency has approved a drug derived from cannabis.
Epidiolex is based on cannabidiol, more commonly called CBD, rather than THC, which is the component associated with psychoactive effects. Many individuals report experiencing relief from epilepsy symptoms after smoking a high CBD strain of cannabis or consuming CBD pills, which solely or primarily contain cannabidiol.
There’s a couple major benefits associated with a prescription drug based on this substance: the first is that it is purified with a consistent dosage, making it easier to take for therapeutic reasons, and the second is that insurance companies are likely to cover the cost of the drug.
The latter is of particular importance to individuals who have found relief in consuming CBD, but who aren’t able to afford the out-of-pocket expenses associated with consuming the substance daily. As well, CBD remains in a legal grey area, making it difficult for patients outside of legal states to acquire. A prescription drug provides a workaround to this issue.
The FDA cites a number of side effects associated with Epidiolex that may give some patients pause, however, including the potential for increased liver enzymes, weakness, poor sleep quality, and diarrhea, among others. Despite the medication’s approval, cannabis remains a Schedule I substance, which, according to the federal government, means it has “no accepted medical uses.”