Epilepsy & Seizures: The Role of Cannabis in Reducing Episodes
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by an enduring predisposition to generate epileptic seizures. It’s a spectrum condition with a wide array of seizure types and control varying greatly from person to person. Traditional treatments include antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), surgeries, diets, and neurostimulation, but some patients find that these treatments are not fully effective or come with significant side effects. As such, there is increasing interest in the potential role of cannabis, specifically cannabidiol (CBD), in reducing seizure frequency and severity in individuals with epilepsy.
Understanding Epilepsy and Seizures
Seizures are bursts of electrical activity in the brain that can affect how a person appears or acts for a short time. In epilepsy, these seizures can be recurrent and unprovoked. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy, making it one of the most common neurological diseases globally.
The Emergence of CBD in Epilepsy Treatment
CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis that has been found to possess various therapeutic properties, including anti-seizure activity. Unlike THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD does not produce the “high” commonly associated with cannabis, making it an appealing option for therapeutic use, especially in children with epilepsy.
Scientific Findings on CBD and Seizures
One of the most significant scientific advancements in the use of CBD for epilepsy came from the research surrounding a CBD-based drug named Epidiolex. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved this drug in 2018 for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
A landmark study published in The New England Journal of Medicine (Devinsky et al., 2017) demonstrated that CBD resulted in a median reduction in monthly seizure frequency of 38.9% among patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome compared to 13.3% for placebo.
Another clinical trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine (Devinsky et al., 2018) on patients with Dravet syndrome found that those who received CBD had a median reduction in monthly convulsive-seizure frequency of 38.4%, as compared with a reduction of 13.3% in the placebo group.
Anecdotal Success Stories
Beyond these clinical trials, there are numerous anecdotal accounts from individuals and families who have experienced dramatic reductions in seizure frequency and intensity with CBD use. These stories have been instrumental in propelling the interest in cannabis-based treatments and have helped fuel a number of clinical studies.
Mechanism of Action
While the exact mechanisms by which CBD exerts its anti-epileptic effects are not entirely understood, research suggests it may involve direct actions on brain receptors such as GPR55 and TRPV1, and modulation of the endocannabinoid system, which can help stabilize neural electrical activity.
Considerations and Safety
Despite the promising results, CBD treatment does not work for everyone with epilepsy, and it’s not a cure. CBD can also interact with other medications, and it’s important to consider potential side effects. The most common side effects noted in the clinical trials for Epidiolex included somnolence, decreased appetite, diarrhea, fever, fatigue, and vomiting.
The incorporation of CBD into treatment options for epilepsy offers new hope for many patients, particularly those who have not found relief with standard medications. Continued research is crucial to fully understand its potential and long-term effects. However, the success stories and scientific findings to date suggest that CBD is a significant advancement in the management of difficult-to-treat seizures.
- Devinsky, O., Cross, J. H., Laux, L., et al. (2017). Trial of Cannabidiol for Drug-Resistant Seizures in the Dravet Syndrome. The New England Journal of Medicine, 376(21), 2011-2020.
- Devinsky, O., Patel, A. D., Cross, J. H., et al. (2018). Effect of Cannabidiol on Drop Seizures in the Lennox–Gastaut Syndrome. The New England Journal of Medicine, 378(20), 1888-1897.
- FDA approves first drug comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy [Press release]. (2018, June 25). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Individuals with epilepsy interested in using CBD should consult with their healthcare provider to discuss whether it is a suitable option for their specific condition and circumstances.