London: Compounds found in the leaves of cannabis plants can help reduce seizures in epilepsy that has caused misery to millions of people, say experts.
The British government is growing these plants in huge industrial-sized greenhouses in the hope of producing a new treatment for epilepsy, the Daily Telegraph reported Sunday.
Scientists have found three compounds in the leaves that can help reduce and control seizures in epilepsy, it said.
Ben Whalley, lead researcher of the study at the University of Reading, said tests in animals had shown the compounds are effective at preventing seizures and have less side effects than existing epilepsy drugs.
In Britain alone there are over 500,000 people who suffer from epilepsy.
"There was a stigma associated with cannabis that came out from the 60s and 70s associated with recreational use, so people have tended not to look at it medicinally as a result," the newspaper quoted Whalley as saying.
"Cannabis is thought of being a treasure trove of compounds that could be used for pharmacological development," he added.
Epilepsy is caused by sudden bursts of electrical activity in the brain that disrupt the normal way in which messages are transmitted. This can cause debilitating seizures and fits that can lead to sufferers injuring themselves.
Two of the compounds the researchers have identified, one called cannabidiol and the other called GWP42006, have been highly effective at controlling seizures in animals, the newspaper said.
They now hope to begin clinical trials in humans within the next three years. Neither of the compounds produce the characteristic "high" associated with cannabis use, it said.
The latest findings were published in the scientific journal Seizure. The scientists believe they work by interfering with the signals that cause the brain to become hyper-excitable, which leads to epileptic seizures.