Pros and cons of medical marijuana to be discussed at Queensland Epilepsy Symposium

The pros and cons of medical marijuana is a discussion focus at the fifth annual Queensland Epilepsy Symposium, Epilepsy – On the Horizon.

Jointly hosted by Epilepsy Queensland Inc, Griffith University and St Vincent’s Private Hospital Brisbane, the event will be held at Gardens Point Campus of QUT University in George Street, Brisbane on Thursday, November 20, 2014.

Professor Roy Beran, a neurologist from Griffith’s School of Medicine will be one of the panellists discussing medical marijuana. He says he is dubious about the benefits of the drug with regard to epilepsy.

“The point is that marijuana has been around for over 6000 years and if it was as good as people say it is, then there would be no need for trials because it would have proven its efficacy already,” he says.

While pharmaceutical cannabis is available in Australia for treating pain and wasting associated with HIV and chemotherapy, and in the treatment of spasticity in multiple sclerosis, its efficacy in the treatment of severe refractory epilepsy or catastrophic epilepsy syndromes is unknown.

Trials are underway in the USA investigating the efficacy and safety of ‘medical marijuana’ in Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes, with results to date giving cautious optimism.

Professor Terence O’Brien, the only Australian co-chair on the International League Against Epilepsy’s Taskforce on Pre-clinical Therapy Development, will discuss new and future treatments for people with epilepsy.

A concerted international research effort is underway to close a major ‘gap’ that has long existed in the treatment of epilepsy.

“In the past 20 years, there has been an ‘explosion’ in new drugs to treat epilepsy, but 30 percent of people with epilepsy do not become seizure-free through medication or surgery,” says Professor O’Brien. “New drugs and treatments have not been able to close this gap in the past 50 years – so we must address the reasons behind drugresistant epilepsy and develop effective treatments. This group of people face increased injury and death rates; they cannot drive or work, and live with poor quality of life and the stigma associated with seizures.”

The taskforce is strongly focused on enticing government and industry to invest in research to develop drugs that can close this epilepsy treatment gap.

Professor O’Brien will present promising pre-clinical data from animal trials of drugs and new types of therapies including genetic therapy, surgery and neurostimulation.

Meanwhile, Dr Chris DeGiorgio, Professor-in-Residence of Neurology at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicin, will discuss the positive results of a randomized controlled trial to examine the safety and efficacy of Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation.

TNS is a new investigational neuromodulation therapy for people with drug-resistant epilepsy. Its potential as a treatment for epilepsy is of interest because it is non-invasive, can easily be applied by patients, is worn for 8 to 14 hours, and is less expensive than implantable neurostimulation devices. The trial, published by the American Academy of Neurology last year, was in preparation for a phase 111 clinical trial.

The trigeminal nerve is a cranial nerve just 1cm under the surface of the skin that conveys information from the face and connects directly to the brainstem. TNS allows for non-invasive electrical stimulation via a patch placed on the person’s forehead, modulating activity of the brain regions implicated in epilepsy, depression, ADHD and other disorders.


9.10am           Official opening by The Honourable Quentin Bryce AD CVO
9.15am           New and future treatments for people with epilepsy – Professor Terence                       O’Brien
10.15am         Morning tea
10.30am         Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation – video link presentation by Dr Chris                                 DeGiorgio
11.30am         Benefits of syndrome orientated AED (anti-epilepsy drugs) therapy –                               Professor Christian Gericke
12.30pm         Lunch
1.30pm           Generic medications: implications for the future – Professor Roy Beran.
2pm               Medical marijuana panel: Professor Roy Beran, Dr Dan McLaughlin                           (Brisbane-based neurologist specialising in the treatment of adults with                         seizure disorders), Professor Terence O’Brien (see profile above), and                         parents of children with epilepsy, Rozanne Burley and Michelle                                   Whitelaw.
3pm                Deep Brain Stimulation – Professor Peter Silburn
3.30pm           New Medication – Professor Harry McConnell


  1. Nick Gayton Nick Gayton Australia says:

    Comments like Roy Beran's are exactly what has postponed the progress of cannabis medicine in this present day. Various forms and applications of non-psychoactive cannabis extracts are showing dramatic results with no negative side effects with nearly every child suffering from intractable seizures. He probably would rather them back on a cocktail of deadly drugs that don't even affect the frequency or severity of the seizures some of these kids are cripple by because they are in his scope of mainstream medicine. Get your heads out of the sand. The pros are clearly evident. Show me a con. Most of these anticonvulsants can kill and for some are completely ineffective, cannabis does no harm especially when we are talking about non-psychoactive applications.

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