Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome – Medical Marijuana Research Overview

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Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is a type of severe epilepsy that develops during early childhood and is characterized by a high volume of seizures. Studies have shown cannabinoids may be able to play a therapeutic role for managing seizures.

Overview of Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome

Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is a severe form of epilepsy that typically develops before the age of four. The syndrome typically causes impaired intellectual development and limits information processing, causing behavioral problems. While the cause of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome can’t always be determined, it many cases, it be attributed to either brain malformations, perinatal asphyxia, severe head injury, central nervous system infection and inherited degenerative or metabolic conditions.

The type of seizures caused by Lennox-Gastaut syndrome can include tonic (body stiffens, eyes deviate upward, pupils dilate, respiratory patterns become altered), atonic (brief loss of consciousness and muscle tone, abrupt falling), atypical absence (spell of staring), and myoclonic (sudden muscle jerks). The Epilepsy Foundation, however, notes that tonic and atonic seizures are most common in Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

There is no cure for the disorder and complete recovery and freedom from seizures is unusual. It’s rare for anti-seizure medications to be effective in individuals with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. In addition, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke note that children that respond positively to a drug can later show tolerance and resume their uncontrollable seizures.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome

Researchers have discovered that the body’s endocannabinoid system, the major regulatory network that keeps an array of functions in balance, can play a role in the reduction of seizure activity5. The cannabinoids that the body synthesizes on its own, or endocannabinoids, have shown in studies to play a role in the regulation of seizure threshold and intensity4.

Through interaction with the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid receptors, in particular cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB1), cannabinoids are able to dampen the release of neurotransmitter and produce an overall reduction in neuronal excitability to curtails seizure activity1,2.

These findings suggest that cannabis-derived cannabinoids, which also interact with the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid receptors, could also play a therapeutic role in the treatment of seizure disorders like Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome.

States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome

Currently, just South Carolina has approved medical marijuana specifically for the treatment of Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. However, several other states have approved medical marijuana specifically to treat epilepsy and other seizure disorders. These states include: Alabama (debilitating epileptic conditions), Connecticut, Delaware (intractable epilepsy), Florida, Georgia (seizure disorder), Iowa (intractable epilepsy), Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi (intractable epilepsy), Missouri (intractable epilepsy), New Hampshire, New Jersey (seizure disorders), New Mexico, New York, North Carolina (intractable epilepsy), North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma (pediatric epilepsy), Pennsylvania, Texas (intractable epilepsy), Utah (intractable epilepsy), Virginia (intractable epilepsy), West Virginia, Wisconsin (seizure disorders), and Wyoming (intractable epilepsy).

In addition, several states approve medical marijuana to specifically treat seizures. These states include: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania (intractable seizures), Rhode Island, Tennessee (intractable seizures), Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

The state of Massachusetts will consider allowing medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of epilepsy if it’s determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician.

In Washington D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.

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  • By interacting with the endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids can regulate the frequency and intensity of seizures.
    The endogenous cannabinoid system regulates seizure frequency and duration in a model of temporal lobe epilepsy.


  1. 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.
  2. 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/.
  3. NINDS Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome Information Page. (2015, July 17). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/lennoxgastautsyndrome/lennoxgastautsyndrome.htm.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


  • October 6, 2015
  • Eve Ripley