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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 threatening. 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 60. There is no cure for epilepsy, so the focus of treatment is on limiting seizures.
Research has shown that cannabinoids may be be a safe and well-tolerated therapeutic treatment for reducing or even eliminating seizure activity. Studies have demonstrated cannabis to be effective at managing seizures in both children and adults.
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Most of the breakthrough research investigating the potential benefits of cannabinoids for epilepsy focus on their interactions with the endocannabinoid system, the body’s major regulatory network that is responsible for keeping a wide array of functions in balance. Studies have shown that the endocannabinoid system can be modulated to eliminate seizure activity7. In particular, the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB1), when activated, inhibits the release of a particular neurotransmitter and reduces overall neuronal excitability to prevent seizure triggers1,4.
Cannabinoids synthesized by the body, or endocannabinoids, have demonstrated in studies to play a role in the regulation of seizure threshold and intensity6. These findings suggest that cannabis-derived cannabinoids, which interact with the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid receptors, may also hold therapeutic potential for managing seizure activity.
- Blair, R.E., Deshpande, L.S., Sombati, S., Falenski, K.W., Martin, B.R., and DeLorenzo, R.J. (2006, June). Activation of the cannabinoid type-1 receptor mediates the anticonvulsant properties of cannabinoids in the hippocampal neuronal culture models of acquired epilepsy and status epilepticus. The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 317(3), 1072-1078. Retrieved from http://jpet.aspetjournals.org/content/317/3/1072.long.
- Epilepsy (2014, November 22). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/epilepsy/home/ovc-20117206.
- Epilepsy Statistics. (2014, March). Epilepsy Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.epilepsy.com/learn/epilepsy-statistics.
- Karlócai, M. R., Tóth, K., Watanabe, M., Ledent, C., Juhász, G., Freund, T. F., & Maglóczky, Z. (2011). Redistribution of CB1 Cannabinoid Receptors in the Acute and Chronic Phases of Pilocarpine-Induced Epilepsy. PLoS ONE, 6(11), e27196. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3208595/.
- NINDS Epilepsy Information Page. (2015, July 17). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/epilepsy/epilepsy.htm.
- Wallace, M.J., Martin, B.R., and DeLorenzo, R.J. (2002). Evidence for a physiological role of endocannabinoids in the modulation of seizure threshold and severity. European Journal of Pharmacology, 452(3), 295-301. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0014299902023312.
- Wallace, M.J., Blair, R.E., Falenski, K.W., Martin, B.R., and DeLorenzo, R.J. (2003, October). The endogenous cannabinoid system regulates seizure frequency and duration in a model of temporal lobe epilepsy. The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 307(1), 129-37. Retrieved from http://jpet.aspetjournals.org/content/307/1/129.long.