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Overview of Epilepsy and Cannabis Treatment
Epilepsy is a central nervous system disorder characterized by a disruption in brain nerve activity that causes seizures, convulsions, strange sensations and a loss of consciousness. Affecting 1 in 26 people in the United States, the disorder can range in severity from relatively benign to disabling or life threatening10. The occurrence of a single seizure doesn’t necessarily mean that a person has epilepsy. The call for the diagnosis of epilepsy arises after the experiencing two or more unprovoked seizures at least 24 hours apart.
While genetics, infectious diseases, head trauma and brain conditions can cause epilepsy to develop, there is no identifiable cause in about half of those who are diagnosed. The disorder can affect those of any age, but most commonly develops during early childhood or after the age of 609. There is no cure for epilepsy, so the focus of treatment is on limiting seizures.
Research has shown that cannabis, particularly its non-psychoactive cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD), to be a safe and well-tolerated therapeutic treatment for reducing or even eliminating seizure activity3. Studies have demonstrated cannabis to be effective at managing seizures in both children and adults7.
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Cannabis’ Effects on Epilepsy: What Research has Found
Cannabis’ Potential in the Global Epilepsy Market
Most of the breakthrough research investigating cannabis’ effect on epilepsy focus on CBD and its demonstrated ability to reduce or even eliminate seizure activity3,4,5,6,7,11,17,19,20,26,28. CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have shown to indirectly and directly interact with the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1), which dampens neurotransmission and produced an overall reduction in neuronal excitability. While more research still needs to be done, scientists also theorize that CBD manages seizure frequency through a combination of methods, including binding to TRP channels, activating 5HT1A receptors, and inhibiting adenosine reuptake. Researchers also believe it’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties are beneficial in its anti-seizure effects8.
In one questionnaire study, 84% of parents reported that cannabis treatments reduced their child’s seizure frequency. Of those that had positive results, 11% of them responded that their child was able to reach complete seizure freedom, while 42% reported a greater than 80% reduction in seizure frequency. The parents also reported additional beneficial effects, such as increased alertness, better mood, and improved sleep25.
Another survey found that CBD-enriched cannabis brought about a reduction in seizure frequency in 85% of children with epilepsy, while 14% experienced complete seizure freedom. The children also reported an improvement in sleep (53%), alertness (71%), and mood (63%)18.
A study examining the effect of CBD-enriched medical cannabis on children with epilepsy found that 89 percent of children reported a reduction in seizure frequency with CBD treatment. The children also reportedly saw improvements in behavior and alertness, language, communication, motor skills and sleep29.
A case report of a young epileptic girl found that medical marijuana brought the child’s seizure frequency from nearly 50 convulsive seizures per day to 2-3 nocturnal convulsions per month. In addition, the child was able to wean off the additional antiepileptic drugs she had been taking23.
Most recently, an Australian survey found cannabis reduced the frequency of seizures in 90% of adults and 71% of children27.
While traditional antiepileptic medicines are in most cases effective for seizures, they often come with a number of adverse side effects. A research review concluded that cannabinoids have shown to produce anticonvulsant effects in preclinical and preliminary human studies while eliciting fewer adverse effects that other antiepileptic drugs8.
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- Devinsky, O., Cilio, M.R., Cross, H., Fernandez-Ruiz, J., French, J., Hill, C., Katz, R., Di Marzo, V., Jutras-Aswad, D., Notcutt, W.G., Martinez-Orgado, J., Robson, P.J., Rohrback, B.G., Thiele, E., Whalley, B., and Friedman, D. (2014, June). Cannabidiol: pharmacology and potential therapeutic role in epilepsy and other neuropsychiatric disorders. Epilepsia, 55(6), 791-802. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4707667/.
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- Hill, T.D., Cascio, M.G., Romano, B., Duncan, M., Pertwee, R.G., Williams, C.M., Whalley, B.J., and Hill, A.J. (2013, October). Cannabidivarin-rich cannabis extracts are anticonvulsant in mouse and rat via a CB1 receptor-independent mechanism. British Journal of Pharmacology, 170(3), 679-92. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3792005/.
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