Epilepsy and medical marijuana have become huge talking points in the legalization debate, with many users coming forward and sharing their experiences. Both children and adults seem to be able to get relief when using medical marijuana, and the state of Florida seems to agree as epilepsy is one of the conditions eligible for a medical marijuana recommendation. People in general also believe in the anticonvulsant properties of marijuana, but is there scientific evidence to back the claim? In this article, we will go over what epilepsy is, what causes it, and how marijuana can benefit those with epilepsy.

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder. Abnormal neural activity in the brain causes recurring seizures with unknown cause or medical condition. Seizures can vary from small and imperceptible to vigorous and may result in injuries. Because of this, there are many different types of epileptic disorders and they can be categorized in the following way: unknown cause, symptomatic, provoked, and cryptogenic.

The symptoms of seizures can change depending on the type of seizure and include confusion, staring, uncontrollable movement, loss of consciousness, and abrupt change in emotion. The seizures can also originate in one side of the brain (focal) or the entire brain (general). People with epilepsy usually have the same type of seizure each time, but other kinds of seizures and neurological problems can happen as well.

Anybody can get epilepsy, regardless of ethnic background, gender, or age. The cause of it remains largely unknown, but many factors have been linked to the condition. Genetics and developmental factors seem to play a role, with certain genes making people have lower seizure thresholds than normal and family history being a risk factor. Some injuries and brain conditions are also thought to cause epilepsy. Children and seniors are also more likely to develop the condition.

Epilepsy can also cause problems outside of the seizures themselves. Individuals with epilepsy are more likely to experience injuries and pregnancy problems and can develop emotional issues due to the conditions as well. Long lasting and uncontrolled seizures can cause brain damage and even death.

How can Medical Marijuana Benefit Those with Epilepsy?

Recently, marijuana has garnered much praise and attention for helping people with epilepsy control the condition. Perhaps most famously in the case of Charlotte Figi, a young girl diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome. Using high concentrations of CBD, a cannabinoid produced in marijuana, Charlotte’s seizures dropped from three hundred per week to only a couple per month.

The use of CBD to help treat epilepsy has started to make its way into more traditional pharmaceuticals as well. In June of 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex as a treatment for two forms of epilepsy, Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut. It was the first marijuana-derived drug to gain approval.

There have also been numerous scientific studies showing the anti-convulsant effects of marijuana. A 2012 experiment showed a significant decrease in induced seizures in rats after consuming CBD [1]. In humans, the CBD has also shown promise in helping tremors and other neurological conditions such as MS and Huntington’s [2]. CBD also lacks the psychoactivity of CBD, meaning you don’t get high when using it, making it even more attractive as a treatment.

The mechanism of CBD as an anticonvulsant is still being researched. However, it was originally hypothesized that it achieved this by acting on the endocannabinoid system in the brain (more information on the endocannabinoid system can be found here). This may be false, though, as a 2010 study showed [3]. This is also supported by other studies showing CBD affecting a wide range of receptors, including dopamine and serotonin, outside of the endocannabinoid system.

Patients using medical marijuana have also been researched with promising results. For example, in a study of 108 patients, using CBD in addition to another drug was able to reduce the number of seizures in thirty eight percent of patients by more than half with ten percent becoming seizure free [4]. Other benefits were also reported, including increased alertness and improved verbal reactions. A similar study in young children with caregivers showed increases in memory, energy, social behavior, and overall quality of life [5].

While this research is very exciting, it is important to know that there may also be unwanted side effects when consuming medical marijuana. Just like any drug, when too much is consumed, problems can occur. High levels of THC can cause paranoia, dizziness, fatigue, and other problems. This is unlikely to happen when taking high CBD strains, but CBD carries its own set of complications.

When taking CBD and clobazam, patients were more likely to experience adverse side effects such as fatigue and drowsiness [6]. This is thought to be linked to higher levels of clobazam in blood caused by CBD.

If you or someone you know suffers from epileptic seizures and would like more information on medical marijuana, speak with a Patient Care Coordinator today at (888) 908.0143 or visit us on the web at docmj.com.

Cited Works

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22520455/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19228180/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2819831/

[4] https://www.epilepsybehavior.com/article/S1525-5050(18)30009-X/fulltext

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28617940/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5767492/