AES Position on Medical Marijuana

Updated March 21, 2016

Three million Americans live with epilepsy. One-third of these people have ongoing treatment-resistant seizures. As the leading organization of clinical and research professionals specializing in the treatment of this challenging spectrum of disorders, the American Epilepsy Society (AES) supports all well-controlled studies that will lead to a better understanding of the disease and the development of safe and effective treatments for epilepsy.

The anecdotal reports of positive effects of the marijuana derivative cannabidiol (CBD) for some individuals with treatment-resistant epilepsy give reason for hope. However, we must remember that anecdotal reports alone are not sufficient to support treatment decisions. Robust scientific evidence for the use of marijuana is limited. The lack of information does not mean that marijuana is ineffective for epilepsy. It merely means that we do not know if marijuana is a safe and effective treatment for epilepsy, which is why it should be studied using the well-founded research methods that all other effective treatments for epilepsy have undergone.

There is great interest within the professional community to explore the potential of CBD and there are several clinical and basic research studies now underway. Every case of epilepsy is different and the disease is highly variable. Scientific studies help the entire epilepsy community to understand how and why various treatments work and for whom they are effective. Research also helps us understand the correct dose, side effects, and potential interactions with other medications. AES is highly supportive of these rapidly advancing research efforts.

AES calls on government and private funders to support well-designed clinical research into all promising treatments for epilepsy. To increase clinical research into the effectiveness and safety of marijuana as a possible treatment for resistant epilepsy, the American Epilepsy Society urges that marijuana’s status as a Federal DEA Schedule 1 controlled substance be reviewed. AES’s call for rescheduling is not an endorsement of the legalization of marijuana, but is a recognition that the current restrictions on the use of medical marijuana for research continue to stand in the way of scientifically rigorous research into the development of cannabinoid-based treatments.

The American Epilepsy Society is very sympathetic to the desperation of parents whose children have severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy. Our members, face these families daily at the clinic and at their bedside and are highly attuned to the need for compassionate use of promising new therapies in appropriate and controlled circumstances. AES urges all people touched by epilepsy to consult with an epilepsy specialist and explore the many existing treatment options, so that they can make informed decisions with their specialist that weighs the risks and benefits of the different treatment options.

About the American Epilepsy Society

The American Epilepsy Society is a medical and scientific society whose members are engaged in research and clinical care for people with epilepsy. For more than 75 years, AES has provided a dynamic global forum where professionals from academia, private practice, not-for-profit, government and industry can learn, share and grow.