treating epilepsy with cannabis

Marijuana Leaf Plays Epilepsy Cure Role

treating epilepsy with cannabisPublished May 20, 1949
Salt Lake Telegram

Drug principles isolated from leaves of marijuana, an innocent-looking plant that grows wild in different parts of the world, are playing an important role in research on a cure for epilepsy.

This is the same marijuana which so many people fear as a habit-forming drug and which is noted for the opium-like dreams it produces in those who partake of it.

The drugs being used are synthetic substances related to cannabinol, which is contained in marijuana, but does not produce the same effects. Dr. Jean P. Davis, faculty researcher at the University of Utah medical college, has done considerable research with the drugs in treatment of minor and convulsive epilepsy.

She reports that the drugs have been found effective about 50% of the time. Future for epileptics appears “very bright,” she said, “because of not only one new drug, but a whole field of new compounds to combat epileptic seizures.”

Helps Minor Seizures

photo of Dr. Jean P. DavisOne of these new drugs, trimethadione, is most effective in petit mal epilepsy, minor seizures common in younger patients. Another, paramethadione, a sort of second cousin to the first, is useful in such spells.

A third compound, called phenerone, is effective in psycho-motor seizures, sudden episodes of unusual behavior, accompanied by amnesia.

Epilepsy comes in four degrees: grand mal, or pykno-epilepsy, with brief staring spells; psycho-motor, accompanied by amnesia and unusual behavior, and Jacksonian, identified by retention of consciousness with progressive twitching and numbness of one leg or arm.

Mr. Davis is in charge of a section of the psychiatric clinic at Salt Lake General hospital, where she does some clinical work. She also instructs advanced courses in the departments of pharmacology and physiology at the university.

Began in 1929

According to Dr. Davis, actual valuable research with modern methods of fighting epilepsy came into their own in 1929 with the invention of the electro-encephalograph, an instrument for recording brain activity.

And the latest of the compounds used in treatment of the affliction was developed in 1948. Meanwhile, research is advancing at a rapid pace, Dr. Davis said.

She studied for three years under Dr. William Lennox, one of the top U.S. experts on epilepsy. She received her doctor of medicine degree at Yale university in 1943.

Most of her clinical work has been confined to children, with whom she “likes to work.”

—End Article—

Government Reaction

The Government’s Reaction to Dr. Davis’ study was one of surprise, having been caught off guard by this potential threat to pending legislation designed to outlaw marihuana. In a memo written to Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger, the agent investigating Dr. Davis seemed surprised to have uncovered several other physicians involved in the study of treating epilepsy with cannabis. His letter is reprinted below.

June 24, 1949
Dear Sir:

A month after the Salt Lake Telegram article this memo was written to Harry Anslinger, Commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics and the self-avowed father of modern cannabis prohibition laws.

A month after the Salt Lake Telegram article this memo was written to Harry Anslinger, Commissioner of the Bureau of Narcotics and the undisputed father of modern cannabis prohibition laws.


Reference is made to your letter of June 16, 1949 regarding the work of Dr. Jean P. Davis of the University of Utah Medical College on the use of marihuana in curing epilepsy, which was mentioned in an article taken from the Salt Lake City Telegram.

Dr. Davis was interviewed and furnished me with twenty copies of her report, as you requested, and these are attached hereto.

Dr. Davis advised me that she was assisted in those tests by Dr. Louis P. Goodman, of the Department of Pharmacology, University of Utah College of Medicine and that synthetic marihuana was used. In Test No. 122 the preparation used was made by Dr. Roger Adams, Professor of Chemistry, University of Illinois, at Urbana, Illinois. In test No. 125A the preparation used was made by Dr. R.K. Richard, Abbott Laboratories, North Chicago, Illinois.

Dr. Louis P. Goodman was also interviewed and stated that only synthetic marihuana preparations were used in his tests, while working with Dr. Davis, and their work will not be interrupted if the United Nations Narcotics Commission legally prohibits the production of the marihuana plant.

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