As the acceptance of marijuana as medicine grows (even among people against it recreationally), more and more people are using it to treat numerous maladies. From the mental to the physical to the emotional, it’s turned into a bit of a miracle, pushing aspirin off of its “wonder drug” throne and proudly taking the crown.
Still, few conditions are as tightly tied to cannabis as seizures. Scientific studies, first person accounts, and reports from parents of epileptic children, all attest to the benefit of marijuana on the brain.
What is a Seizure?
According to the University of Chicago School of Medicine, a seizure is a sudden jolt of electrical activity that occurs in the brain. Normally, the electrical activity is balanced and even, allowing a person to function as usual. When a seizure occurs, the disruption causes seizing, changes in behavior, changes in sensation, changes in movement, and a loss or a reduction of consciousness.
While epilepsy is a condition marked by seizures, not all seizures occur in the epileptic. In fact, around ten percent of people may experience a seizure during their lifetime. Occasionally, it’s brought upon by other medical conditions and, other times, it’s the result of certain medications (especially when they’re mixed with other medications or alcohol).
Epilepsy, which is marked by chronic, recurrent seizures, affects about one percent of the population
But it’s a very inclusive disease: it affects people of all races, the young and the old, and both men and women. The causes are also varied: a genetic predisposition, previous trauma, stroke, or a head injury can lead to its presence. Many cases come about for no obvious reason at all.
The impact epilepsy has on a person can’t be understated; not only do seizures greatly impact everyday life and impair a person’s ability to drive or care for their children (or do the most mundane activities like walk upstairs), but the endless threat of a seizure is emotionally devastating.
Unfortunately, epilepsy is an elusive illness: according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, around thirty to forty percent of people continue to experience seizures despite use of conventional treatments.
That’s where cannabis comes in.
Cannabis and Epilepsy
Per the Epilepsy Foundation, laboratory studies, clinical studies, and patient surveys each give credence to marijuana’s reputation as a treatment for seizures. It’s controversial, since everything with cannabis seems to be. But the debate is also perplexing: the focus isn’t on the mind-altering THC. Instead, it’s on the benign cannabidiol (CBD), a cannabinoid without the ability to elicit a high. People and parents fighting for marijuana rights aren’t asking the government to allow Junior to smoke a joint during study hall; they’re asking for access to marijuana’s non-psychoactive benefits.
Yet, even with pot’s backing by the epilepsy community, not every medical study has produced the same results: some are conflicting in regards to CBD’s talents. Of course, one could argue that that occurs with everything. Health is an evolving field: one minute, salt is bad for us; the next, we’re told to invite it over for dinner. That’s why a handful of studies don’t say much: medicine is a field where research is the more the merrier (and by “merrier” I mean “accurate”).
But complicating this is the difficulty that surrounds research involving marijuana. Some scientists flat out refuse to conduct it in fear that they’ll lose their jobs or their funding; others find all the bureaucratic hoops too difficult, too expensive, and too time-consuming to jump through.
Epidiolex, a drug derived from CBD and available through GW Pharmaceuticals, has recently garnered a lot of attention. It’s made of purified, 99 percent oil-based CBD extract. The FDA has approved it for compassionate use, allowing its administration in certain medical centers, as the clinical trials proceed.
What the results have shown so far is promising. A study presented in the American Academy of Neurology polled 137 patients who took the drug for 12 weeks; the study was focused on the young, with ages ranging from 2 years to 26 (and a median age of 11). Each participant had a type of epilepsy that was unresponsive to current treatments. Many had either Dravet Syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, two conditions known to make medical options difficult.
Fifty-four percent of the 137 patients reported that their seizures decreased
Sixty-three percent of patients with Dravet Syndrome reported a reduction, while those with atonic seizures did as well (a reduction of just under sixty-seven percent).
People who combined Epidiolex with another seizure medicine (Clobazam) found greater improvement, providing a possibility that CBD drugs could be supplemental medicines if not stand alone ones.
Charlotte Figi, a Colorado girl whose Dravet Syndrome was so severe she was experiencing 300 seizures a week (including ones that stopped her heart) and declining cognitively, has become the unofficial poster child for CBD oil and the high CBD strain, Charlotte’s Web. After exhausting every traditional treatment, she began to use CBD-oil and her seizures dramatically reduced: a ninety-nine percent decrease.
Now advocates point to her as proof that CBD oil or CBD based medications, at the very least, are worth a shot.
The Future of CBD
For centuries, the story of cannabis’s ability to stop seizures has circulated like a legend passed down from generation to generation. If the past tells us anything, it’s that the future will see more CBD drugs in the hands of epileptics (and everyone else).
Marijuana possesses cannabinoids thought to have natural anti-convulsing effects, making it a plant ideal for treating epilepsy and other conditions that may cause seizures
It’s just another laurel upon which pot to rest; medically, we’re learning more and more about its advantages.
As weed becomes mainstream (and it is – thanks California!), more medical studies and research opportunities will arise and give scientists the ability to quit saying, “We think cannabis helps with this ailment,” and instead say, “Now we know it does.”