Can Marijuana Treat Epilepsy?

Maylin Rodriguez Paez, RN

In an effort to treat their children’s intractable seizures, many families have made the move to Colorado where medical marijuana is legal.

This may seem almost insane to some, but it‘s the only option left for many children whose seizures don’t respond to traditional treatments.

Many doctors are reluctant to prescribe marijuana to their patients, especially if they’re children. Which begs us to ask the question, can this stuff really help?

Anecdotal Reports on Marijuana and Epilepsy are Promising

In a documentary called Weed, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta presented the case of Charlotte Figi. She suffers from a condition called Dravet Syndrome which caused her to have hundreds of seizures a week.

Medications were not working for her, and she came close to dying on several occasions. After exhausting all options, her parents considered the use of marijuana. They saw online reports of children being helped.

After jumping through many loops, they were able to give her a special strain of marijuana high in cannabidiol (CBD) and low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a psychoactive compound. The results were nothing short of a miracle. In the first day of treatment, Charlotte had significantly fewer seizures.1

Charlotte’s case is not unique. Several other children with intractable seizures have reportedly found relief as well. Their cases have been documented online and in the news.

To some, these stories may just be coincidental; to others it may signal a medical breakthrough, especially considering the safety of CBD.

Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive and does not cause people to get “high.” In addition, CBD has been shown to be safe and non-toxic, with drowsiness being the most significant side effect. On the other hand, traditional anti-seizure medications are laden with side effects and have even caused deaths.

CBD from Marijuana Has Anti-Convulsive and Neuroprotective Effects

Endocannabinoids are natural chemicals produced by the human body. They modulate cannabinoid receptors, which influence many physiological processes.

These processes include pain, memory, sleep, mood, immune function, metabolism, and appetite. Compounds in marijuana, such as THC and CBD are closely related to the endocannabinoids.

A cannabinoid receptor called CB1 influences neuronal excitability and regulates the release of neurotransmitters. It’s believed that CBD acts on CB1 receptors to “calm” the brain.

Animal studies show CBD has anticonvulsant effects.2 It increases the threshold of seizure activity; it reduces seizure severity and lethality, and it even has neuroprotective effects.3-5

In a small clinical trial, four out of eight epileptics taking CBD were almost convulsion-free during the experiment and three showed partial improvements.6

The Bottom Line

The research examining the anti-seizure effects of marijuana goes back several decades. It’s only recently that the media has showed a renewed interest in the topic.

In the meantime, more research needs to be done to examine the long-term effects of CBD and, hopefully, those who need access won’t be denied much longer.

References:

  1. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/07/health/charlotte-child-medical-marijuana. Accessed March 16th, 2014.
  2. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1977 Apr;201(1):26-32.
  3. Epilepsy Behav. 2013 Jul;28(1):1-7.
  4. Seizure. 2012 Jun;21(5):344-52.
  5. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2010 Feb;332(2):569-77.
  6. Pharmacology. 1980;21(3):175-85.

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