The National Evidence-based Healthcare Collaborating Agency (NECA) said medical professionals reached a social consensus on the safety and efficacy of cannabis-based drugs at a roundtable meeting.
The state agency held the meeting to provide correct information about pharmaceutical products comprising an ingredient derived from marijuana.
Participants of the discussion included Professor Park Byung-joo at the Preventive Medicine Department of Seoul National University College of Medicine, Professor Kang Hoon-chul at the Pediatric Neurology Department of Yonsei University College of Medicine, Professor Kim Jee-eun at the Neurology Department of Ewha Womans University Medical Center, and Heo Do-kyeong, leader of the parents of epilepsy patients under Korea Bureau for Epilepsy.
Last year, the nation legalized the import of medical cannabis for limited use through a law revision. However, as groundless information about marijuana-derived medications continued to spread, NECA arranged the round table to provide accurate information about the safety, efficacy, and the possibility of indication expansion of cannabis-based drugs.
At the meeting, the experts defined marijuana-based drugs as “pharmaceutical products manufactured by extracting cannabinoids, one of the natural compounds in cannabis.”
They limited the scope of the consensus to two medicines authorized by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety – Epidiolex containing cannabidiol (CBD) and Sativex, a mix of CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
The experts assessed that Epidiolex could cause drowsiness, dizziness, and headaches but do not pose a high risk of drug dependence. Sativex could also cause headaches and dizziness, but they were within the acceptable limit, and the drug dependence risk was low, the experts confirmed.
However, they noted that patients and physicians need sufficient discussion over the benefits and risks of taking the two drugs, and assessments on drug dependency require follow-up studies.
The experts shared the view that Epidiolex reduces seizures in some patients with epilepsy and that Sativex was effective in improving stiffness and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.
The participants also discussed the possibility of expanding the indication of the two drugs and raised the need for additional research.
They agreed that the indication could be expanded, based on the studies that the medical cannabis was effective on epilepsy in adults, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, neuropathic pain, and Huntington's disease, Tourette syndrome, sleep apnea, and brain cancer.
However, they emphasized that researchers need to accumulate reliable clinical evidence observed over a long period, and the government needs to build an effective management system to prevent abuse of marijuana-based medicines.
“The roundtable provided the first milestone to address social prejudice or wrong perception on cannabis-based drugs and have the drugs prescribed to patients who need them the most,” NECA President Han Kwang-hyub said.
The agency would actively work with various stakeholders to produce and disseminate accurate, evidence-based health information, he added.
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