Fraser Horton
Fraser Horton
Last Updated on January 3, 2021

It’s amazing to see how nowadays the use of weed and weed products has found so many different purposes apart from recreational use. Thankfully, weed is beginning to gain a lot more recognition for its beneficial properties and many people are turning towards using cannabis derivatives as a treatment option for their medical issues and ailments when conventional therapy doesn’t work.

In the past few years, there has been enough research to kickstart the potential use of cannabis for managing the symptoms of epilepsy, and it has come to a point when a cannabis-derived medication was approved for use not too long ago.

Many people suffer from this condition – it’s, in fact, the fourth most common neurological seizure disorder in the United States – and not everyone responds to the conventional treatment or they experience unwanted side effects. Some forms of epilepsy are resistant to the commonly prescribed anti-seizure medications and epilepsy patients suffering from these conditions often look into using medicinal cannabis as a substitute or an adjuvant treatment.

In this article, we’ll give you a short overview on the kind of condition epilepsy is and go into how weed and weed products can help to treat it and improve the patients’ quality of life.

What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes recurrent seizures that happen due to sudden electrical activity in the brain causing disturbances in its normal activity. When the electrochemical impulses between the brain cells become disturbed, it causes the person to feel unusual sensations, they may start behaving strangely, and start having muscle spasms.

The exact causes of epilepsy in people can vary, as well as the severity of the disorder. Some children may simply grow out of it with time while others don’t and have to take medication to control their symptoms long-term.

Speaking of treatment, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, around 30% of people who live with epilepsy don’t respond well to conventional treatment and still experience epileptic seizures. This is why it’s important to look at cannabis as a potential alternative.

Cannabis Compounds May Be an Effective Treatment for Seizures

The cannabis plant is abundant in hundreds of different chemical compounds of which cannabinoids THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive compound, and CBD (cannabidiol), the non-psychoactive compound, are the most researched and the most recognizable. They play a huge role in the therapeutic properties of marijuana, making it suitable for treating mental as well as physical disorders.

However, in the case of epilepsy, CBD has been the star ingredient that’s been getting all the attention because of its anticonvulsant properties that have been clinically examined. It has been proven that medical use of CBD derived from the Cannabis sativa variety could have a positive effect on controlling the symptoms of drug-resistant forms of epilepsy. (Silvestro et al, 2019)

Its mechanism of action is still to be thoroughly examined, but nonetheless, the results indicate that cannabis can help to control seizures related to epilepsy. Let’s see some more details.

CBD Could Help Treat Resistant Forms of Epilepsy

Since the legal state of cannabis has changed in some states over the years and the access to it has not been as limited as before, scientists have been able to continue with their studying of medical cannabis in relation to epilepsy.

There have been both animal and human trials that examined cannabis as a whole and CBD as an isolated compound and most have been focused on examining the effects of weed on severe forms of epilepsy. These studies have led to the first official cannabis-derived medication.

The FDA Approved Medical Marijuana for Treating Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome.

After years of testing and clinical trials, on June 25 2018 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first medical CBD formulation called Epidiolex.

Epidiolex is a purified oil-based CBD extract with over 98% of CBD and it was developed mainly with the purpose to be used for two severe forms of pediatric epilepsy – Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. (Sekar & Pak, 2019) These types of epilepsy usually appear in childhood and present with severe symptoms that cannot be controlled with medication. Moreover, the symptoms can significantly impair the quality of life of the patients.

Epidiolex was examined through different placebo-controlled clinical trials where one group of participants – those with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome – were taking Epidiolex (along with other standard medication) while the other group was given a placebo.

Most studies indicated that there was a significant reduction in seizure frequency in the Epidiolex group, while a small percentage of the participants became seizure-free. The studies report that there were also some side effects, like a change in the function of the liver, lethargy, sleepiness, decreased appetite, and others that were either dose-dependent or as a result of drug interaction with clobazam.

Conclusion

The specter of weed use has been expanding and it’s slowly making its way into the medical field. While many people use marijuana recreationally, the number of medical users is growing and the result of that is the FDA-approved CBD-derived medical marijuana product for treating severe forms of epilepsy, Epidiolex. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the medical aspect of cannabis use, but the journey will be interesting.

Additional Sources

Thomas RH, Cunningham MO. Cannabis and epilepsy. Practical Neurology. 2018 Dec;18(6):465-471. doi: 10.1136/practneurol-2018-002058. Epub 2018 Oct 18. PMID: 30337476.

Silvestro S, Mammana S, Cavalli E, Bramanti P, Mazzon E. Use of Cannabidiol in the Treatment of Epilepsy: Efficacy and Security in Clinical Trials. Molecules. 2019;24(8):1459. Published 2019 Apr 12. doi:10.3390/molecules24081459

Sekar K. and Pack A. Epidiolex as adjunct therapy for treatment of refractory epilepsy: a comprehensive review with a focus on adverse effects [version 1; peer review: 3 approved]. F1000Research 2019, 8(F1000 Faculty Rev):234 https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.16515.1

Pamplona FA, da Silva LR, Coan AC. Potential Clinical Benefits of CBD-Rich Cannabis Extracts Over Purified CBD in Treatment-Resistant Epilepsy: Observational Data Meta-analysis [published correction appears in Front Neurol. 2019 Jan 10;9:1050]. Front Neurol. 2018;9:759. Published 2018 Sep 12. doi:10.3389/fneur.2018.00759

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