Medical Cannabis Giving Hope To Epileptics

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Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by at least two seizures that are not caused by a known medical condition. During a seizure, electrical activity in the brain causes a variety of symptoms, including uncontrolled movements, muscle stiffness, rapid blinking, mental confusion, and even a loss of consciousness. Some people have epilepsy that is well-controlled with medications, but others have a form of the condition known as intractable epilepsy. People with intractable epilepsy cannot get their seizures under control, even if they have tried several treatments. For these people, medical cannabis is offering new hope, as cannabis contains chemicals that may help prevent seizures.

Cannabis Chemicals

Cannabis contains two key chemicals: THC and CBD. THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, and it is the chemical that produces psychoactive effects when people use marijuana. In other words, THC is the component of marijuana that causes people to get high. CBD stands for cannabidiol, and it is the chemical that has been shown to reduce seizure activity in some people with epilepsy. CBD does not produce the psychoactive effects caused by THC, so it can help people with epilepsy control their seizures without getting high.

Medical Evidence

Several studies have demonstrated the benefits of using CBD to treat epilepsy, especially in people with the intractable form of the disorder. Orrin Devinsky and his colleagues studied CBD for the treatment of seizures in children with Dravet syndrome, a form of epilepsy that causes drug-resistant seizures. The study included 120 participants, some of whom received CBD and some of whom received a placebo. The median number of seizures per month decreased from 12.4 to 5.9 in the children who took CBD. It only decreased from 14.9 to 14.1 in the children who received a placebo. Five percent of the children receiving CBD became seizure-free during the study compared with 0 percent of the children receiving a placebo, demonstrating that CBD has the potential to help epileptics who have not been able to control their seizures with other treatments.

Devinsky conducted another study on CBD in 2015, but this study included participants with both Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy that typically causes symptoms early in a child's life. A total of 162 participants were enrolled in the study; 137 of these people were included in the analysis performed to determine whether the CBD was effective. The researchers concluded that CBD reduces seizure activity in children and young adults with epilepsy that is highly resistant to other treatments.

Side Effects

All epilepsy treatments, including CBD, have side effects. The reason CBD shows so much promise, however, is that many of the possible side effects are relatively minor. In the study of children with Dravet syndrome, side effects of CBD included vomiting, diarrhea, sleepiness, fatigue, and fever. One way to prevent or lessen the severity of these side effects is to take the lowest effective dose of CBD. In one clinical trial, participants who took 10 mg of CBD experienced nearly the same reduction in seizures as participants taking 20 mg of CBD; however, the participants taking the lower dose had fewer side effects.

FDA Approval

Thanks to researchers who have conducted clinical trials on CBD in the treatment of epilepsy, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) finally approved an oral form of CBD for treating seizures caused by Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. The drug, called Epidiolex, contains no THC, allowing users to reap the benefits of CBD without getting high. Although CBD has been approved to treat epilepsy in children with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, CBD has not yet been approved to treat other forms of epilepsy.

Several states have legalized medical cannabis, giving people with epilepsy, cancer, and other serious medical conditions a chance to control their symptoms without having to worry about breaking the law. If your doctor believes that CBD could be useful for controlling your seizures, visit a local dispensary to learn more about how medical cannabis is used.