Medical Cannabis Approved for Epileptic Children in Israel

March 9, 2014

2 min read

Medical Cannabis Approved for Epileptic Children in Israel

Israeli parents of children suffering from severe epilepsy can look forward to some relief after a ruling by the Health Ministry on Wednesday to add their condition to the list of approved uses for medical marijuana.  The decision comes following a campaign by fifteen families during which they threatened to move to Colorado — where marijuana use is legal — if they were denied access for their kids.

Medical marijuana is approved for a number of conditions in Israel, including cancer, Parkinson’s, Tourette’s, chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis.  Fibromyalgia and childhood epilepsy have now been added to this list.  Previously, parents of epileptic children had to apply to an exceptions committee.  To date, only ten children were given permission to use the drug.

Children will be allowed to use cannabis to control epileptic symptoms only when they are severe and other treatments have proven ineffective.  Adult sufferers will still be unable to use the drug.

The news is welcome to many parents of epileptic children.  One mother told Army Radio about her three-year-old daughter.  “In the past she had 30 seizures in 24 hours, and today she has about 10 in 24 hours…drugs haven’t helped her. Her seizures only went down after I spent a fortune on a variety of vitamins, procedures and new machines.”

In an appeal to the ministry, a mother wrote, “I’m not asking, I’m begging — give me the license to use medical cannabis. With this amount of seizures, what is the Health Ministry waiting for? That God forbid her condition will deteriorate further? Why not relieve the girl and us? Why are they letting us suffer this way?”


The Health Ministry intends to release guidelines for prescribing medical marijuana for children with epilepsy, and to study those children taking the drug.  A professional committee of the Israel Ambulatory Pediatric Association is also examining its use in children in general and for epilepsy in particular, but it has not yet published any conclusions.  The Ministry’s document should be available in a few weeks, and is being formulated in consultation with pediatric neurologists.

The use of medical marijuana by children is controversial.  The long-term effects of the drug are not clear, and there is some concern in the medical community that it could cause neurological damage in children.  Severe epilepsy can cause developmental delays and is sometimes associated with other neurological development issues, and therefore the Health Ministry was moved to add it to the list of approved uses for medical marijuana.

Stanford University’s neurology department published a small study in December, showing that cannabis is more effective than other drugs in controlling seizures, however, the sample size, just 19 children, means more research is needed before drawing significant conclusions.

While adults typically smoke medical marijuana, children ingest it in other forms, such as inhaling it in a powder, taking it in drops  or eating it in a cookie.

Israel has seen a 30% increase in legally approved medical cannabis users in the past year, now numbering 13,000.

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