U.S. health regulators approve seizure drug made from marijuana

Published: Jun. 25, 2018 at 12:09 PM MDT
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U.S. health regulators on Monday approved the first prescription drug made from marijuana, a milestone that could spur more research into a drug that remains illegal under federal law, despite growing legalization for recreational and medical use.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the medication, called Epidiolex, to treat two rare forms of epilepsy that begin in childhood. But it's not quite medical marijuana.

The strawberry-flavored syrup is a purified form of a chemical ingredient found in the cannabis plant — but not the one that gets users high. It's not yet clear why the ingredient, called cannabidiol, or CBD, reduces seizures in some people with epilepsy.

CBD oil is currently sold online and in specialty shops across the U.S., though its legal status remains murky. Most producers say their oil is made from hemp, a plant in the cannabis family that contains little THC and can be legally farmed in a number of states for clothing, food and other uses.

The impact of Monday's approval on these products is unclear.

Also unclear is the impact on forms of medicinal pot. As

ahead of the expected decision, there have been some concerns that an FDA-endorsed drug could an adverse effect on medical marijuana programs that currently exist outside FDA approval.

Physicians say it's important to have a consistent, government-regulated version.

"In the artisanal products there's often a huge variation in doses from bottle to bottle depending on where you get it," said Ellaine Wirrell, director of the Mayo Clinic's program for childhood epilepsy.