The Epilepsy Foundation defines epilepsy as a chronic condition of the brain which causes seizures and affects 65 million people worldwide. One in 26 people will develop epilepsy in their lifetime. It is not fully known the genetic origins of epilepsy or if the condition is hereditary. A seizure is a disruption of the electrical communications between neurons. There are numerous types of seizures and although the cause of epilepsy cannot be determined, there is speculation that a variety of issues can lead to seizures including: traumatic brain injury, serious illness or very high fever, stroke, brain tumors/cysts, dementia/Alzheimer’s disease, prenatal injury or other neurological diseases.
There is no cure for epilepsy and it affects children and older adults than any other group. Often anti-seizure medications are associated with certain side effects including fatigue, dizziness, memory problems, poor coordination and skin rash. Medical marijuana can alleviate certain side effects and, some research indicates, reduce the number of seizures a patient experiences.
Cannabinoids are compounds in cannabis that target cells in the body. Two major ingredients in medical marijuana are THC, which initiates the psychoactive effects of the medicine, and Cannabidiol (CBD), which does not product psychoactive effects, but has exhibited positive effects systemically. Both THC and CBD bind to receptors in the brain and ultimately block the transmission of pain signals. CBD also appears to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Cannabis has an ancient history across the Middle East and India as an anticonvulsant, but during the past 20 years, research has grown exponentially in support of the medicinal qualities of cannabis. It is apparent that the benefits can no longer be ignored and proper attribution can be recognized for the use of medical marijuana in the treatment of epilepsy. Recently, the mainstream press has initiated a growing interest in the efficacy of cannabinoids when other therapies have failed. National Geographic Magazine examined the role of CBD rich cannabis extracts in the use of seizure maintenance in children.
There is evidence that medical cannabis administration can be beneficial in reducing the side effects from medications and in controlling seizures, especially for conditions like Lennon-Gastaut syndrome in children and adults and Dravet syndrome in children. Other neurological uses include treatments for malignant brain tumors, neuropathic pain, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis. In 2018, the FDA began recommending a cannabinoid-based medication that would treat seizures associated with two rare forms of epilepsy that typically affect children.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, medical marijuana may potentially affect seizures. A 2016 study confirmed that there is clinical evidence of the diminishment of the frequency of seizures when medical marijuana is introduced. Another study recognized that cannabidiol might reduce seizure frequency and may have therapeutic uses for children and young adults with highly treatment-resistant epilepsy. Additionally, one study published in the Epilepsy Behavior established that the administration of cannabis extracts rich in CBD is associated with the reduction of seizure frequency in certain patients.
Speak to your medical marijuana physician if you or someone you love is suffering from epilepsy. Since each patient’s needs are unique, the certifying physician will make a recommendation based on individual conditions.