By David Noonan
Edward Maa did not plan to become a marijuana researcher. But a few years ago, when the neurologist and epilepsy specialist surveyed his patients about their use of alternative medicines, he discovered that more than a third had turned to marijuana to try to control their seizures. “I had no idea,” says Maa, who is chief of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at Denver Health.
Now he is trying to impose some scientific rigor on what has become a very big and unscientific ad hoc experiment in his state, where medical marijuana use is legal. According to the Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado, the widely reported case of Charlotte Figi, a child whose nearly constant seizures were dramatically curtailed with cannabidiol, a marijuana ingredient, has helped trigger an influx of families from around the U.S. seeking similar treatment for their children with seizure disorders. Maa wants to move beyond anecdote and into data. He is monitoring 150 epilepsy patients who all take a product derived from the same strain of marijuana that Figi used, provided by the same source. Over the course of a year, he intends to compare dosage to seizure activity and side effects, as well as patient characteristics, to see if any patterns suggest the drug is effective—or not—in particular situations. “My position is, let’s see what’s going on,” Maa says. “Let’s see if this is helpful and try to understand what we are seeing.”