Epilepsy and Cannabis: A Curing Correlation?

Epilepsy and Cannabis: A Curing Correlation?

Cannabinoids Have Undeniably Saved The Lives Of Patients Suffering From Epilepsy

The topic of epilepsy and cannabis is still touchy, especially when children are brought into the picture. Some medical professionals and government officials are still not on board with giving cannabidiol (CBD) to children with intractable epilepsy—epilepsy that cannot be treated with medicine or diet. The concern is that there have not been enough clinical trials (which can take decades), and we do not know the side effects of CBD on children.

But for the parents of children who suffer from hundreds of seizures a week, it’s different. When your child can no longer walk, talk, or feed themselves due to the debilitating effects seizures have, it begs for a call of action. Parents who are in a constant state of fear because their children can die at any moment due to a seizure … the quality of life that is given back to their child far outweighs the possible side effects of CBD.

Epilepsy and Cannabis and the Story of Charlotte Figi

The parents of Charlotte Figi wanted to know why they had to go out and discover this miraculous treatment for themselves. Charlotte has had Dravet syndrome since she was a baby, and her severe seizures were not treatable by medication or diet. By the time she was five, she was not able to walk, talk or eat on her own.

She had 300 grand mal seizures a week.

CBD began helping Charlotte immediately. By the time she was six, she was having only two or three seizures a month. She was not only walking again, she was riding a bike.

There are numerous anecdotal stories of CBD successfully restoring the quality of life for children suffering from intractable epilepsy.

Charlotte’s dad wants to know why they had to go out and find this cure.

The answer is at least twofold:

  • The U.S. government for so long has imposed severe restrictions on researching cannabis.
  1. Up until recently, there has been a stigma on anything cannabis-related stemming from the marijuana prohibition of the 1930s.

Let’s get one thing straight: Industrial hemp is not marijuana.

All industrial hemp-derived cannabinoids are legal in the U.S. The 2014 Farm Bill saw to that. Industrial hemp and marijuana are related—they are both parts of the cannabis family. But the main difference between the two is that industrial hemp does not contain enough tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to be psychoactive, i.e. it can’t get you high. The 2014 Farm Bill defines industrial hemp apart from marijuana by stating that industrial hemp must contain .3% or less THC.

So what do studies of epilepsy and cannabis show so far?

Studies of epilepsy and cannabis have shown that the cannabinoid (CBD) is potentially helpful in controlling seizures. This, of course, is already corroborated by evidence from anecdotal reports, lab studies, and minor clinical studies. However, not many long-term studies have been carried out. Federal regulations have allowed researchers little or no access to cannabis. Nor do they allow the funding. Time and financial constraints continue to pose a barrier to successful research.

The FDA’s Slow Lean-In to Cannabidiol (CBD)

There is an ongoing, open-label study of Epidiolex, a CBD-based drug in the United States. Epidiolex is extracted from the cannabis plant. It is 99% oil-based and purified. GW Pharmaceuticals is saddled with the responsibility of producing these drugs with consistent amounts in each dose. Permission has been granted to some epilepsy centers by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use CBD-based Epidiolex compassionately, for a limited number of people at each center.

Recently, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have been completed for complex epilepsies such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS). Results obtained from these studies have been presented at a number of scientific conferences.

Studies on the effects of Epidiolex were conducted on 214 participants. Treatment was done for a period of 12 weeks and results were published in Lancet Neurology.

In the study, the mean age of participants who received Epidiolex was 11. These epileptic participants had failed to respond to other conventional treatments.

Seizures decreased by a mean of 54% during the study.

Participants who took Clobazam (Onfi) responded better compared to those who did not take the medication.

Additionally, some promising results were gotten from two gold-standard studies using Epidiolex for LGS in adults and children, and one gold-standard study for children with Dravet syndrome.

  • A 40% reduction in seizures was observed in both LGS studies compared to those who had a placebo (less than 20%), which was statistically significant.
  • There was a 40% reduction in seizures in the Dravet study as opposed to the 17% reduction for the placebo group. This was also considered as statistically significant.

Investigations are ongoing on the effect of Epidiolex in Tuberos Sclerosis patients.

Any Side Effects?

No proper documentation has been done on the side effects of the preparations used to treat seizures. This is due to the fact that varying strains and doses have been used. However, there has been reports of memory problems and increased appetite.

Medication interactions may occur that require further research. Physicians should always be consulted.

Educating and Setting the New Standard of Treatment with Cannabinoids

Conventional medications fail to work for epilepsy in at least 30% of cases. And conventional thinking has kept progress from being made in treating epilepsy and many other diseases and conditions with cannabinoids. Charlotte Figi’s mother always voted against medical marijuana before her daughter needed CBD. For patients, education often comes through personal experience and anecdotal cases. It is shameful the Figis had to go out and find this cure for their daughter’s condition because it was being kept out of the mainstream. With the number of testimonies on the rise relating to the miracles of cannabis and epilepsy, it’s time to remove the stigma and start researching and making available the full potential of cannabinoids.   

References

Devinsky O, Marsh E, Friedman D, et al. Cannabidiol in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy: an open-label interventional trial. Lancet neurology 2015.

Tzadok M, Uliel-Siboni S, Linder I, et al. CBD-enriched medical cannabis for intractable pediatric epilepsy: The current Israeli experience. Seizure: The Journal of the British Epilepsy Association 2016; 35: 41-44.

Gattone PM, Lammert W, and Devinsky O. Epilepsy Foundation of America Position Statement Medical Marijuana in Epilepsy [Online].   

Young, Saundra. Marijuana Stops Child’s Severe Seizures. CNN. 7 August 2013. Web. Accessed 2 October 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2013/08/07/health/charlotte-child-medical-marijuana/index.html

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