WASHINGTON — Researchers said Monday that new findings from a small safety study suggest the extract cannabidiol, a marijuana extract, should be put to a real test. That next-step experiment began enrolling patients earlier this month, and will compare a highly purified version named Epidiolex to a dummy drug, said lead researcher Dr. Orrin Devinsky, who will discuss the safety study at an American Academy of Neurology meeting next week.

“There’s a dire need” for better epilepsy medications, said Devinsky, who directs New York University Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center. “We may start to get some answers within a year.”

Cannabidiol, or CBD, doesn’t cause a high and, when mixed with an oil for patients to swallow, has been widely touted as a potential therapy for hard-to-treat forms of epilepsy.

Meanwhile, families desperate to treat their children’s intractable seizures have made headlines over the past year by moving to states like Colorado, which allows medical use of marijuana, in search of the oils – or by lobbying their own states to allow use of the marijuana extract. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 23 states have broad medical marijuana programs while another 11 states have more recently passed legislation allowing limited access to some cannabidiol-containing products.

Monday, the neurology academy released initial findings from a study of Epidiolex, funded by maker GW Pharmaceuticals. As part of a larger safety study, Devinsky’s team checked families’ seizure logs for 137 patients, mostly children, who took the drug for full three months. There was a median reduction in total reported seizures of 54 percent, Devinsky said, meaning half did better and half worse. Some patients reported no improvement, while 9 percent reported being seizure-free for the three months, he said.

Side effects included sleepiness, fatigue, diarrhea and decreased appetite.

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