Marijuana and epilepsy have long been bound, one rumored to help the other. Even history attributes to this reputation: cannabis lore paints weed as a potent anti-seizure medicine. In fact, a great deal of the spotlight shining on medicinal marijuana is in regards to its advantageous assets for those afflicted with epilepsy. But do the rumors justify the hope? Research suggests that the answer is yes.
What is Epilepsy?
According to Medical News Today, epilepsy is a condition where people have recurrent seizures. These seizures are a result of a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain; the brain’s overloaded and the cells become disturbed. A person seizing has a brain that’s halted or confused.
Not every seizure is the same
Because our brain controls all functions of our bodies, someone with epilepsy may experience different symptoms depending on what area of the brain is affected. This also influences how quickly the electrical activity spreads from one area of the brain to the other.
How Common is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy isn’t exceedingly common, but it’s not altogether rare either. About 50 people out of every 100,000 are diagnosed with it. Seizures unrelated to epilepsy are much more common.
Around one in ten people will experience a seizure at some point in their lives
People with epilepsy often fall into two categories: generalized and partial. Generalized seizures occur when electrical impulses are disrupted throughout the entire brain. Partial seizures occur when electrical impulses are disrupted in a small area of the brain.
What are the Symptoms of Epilepsy?
The symptoms of epilepsy vary by brain region (as mentioned above) as well as by individual. Some the symptoms include: confusion, short spells of blacking out, fainting, loss of bowel or bladder control, unresponsiveness to questions or instructions, stiffness, falling, excessive blinking or chewing, inability to communicate, repetitive movements that seem nonsensical, panic or fear, a change in sensations (such as smelling something that’s not there), and body jerks.
Why is Marijuana Effective for Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is an elusive disease; more than a third of those afflicted don’t respond to the traditional medicines. And those who do respond risk their seizures growing resistant. This is why cannabis is a welcome change: it’s offers treatment to the untreatable.
A lot of the success of marijuana in regards to epilepsy is anecdotal: it relies on personal accounts or what parents of epileptic children have reported. And yet, medical research and scientific studies have backed their statements. Marijuana growers have also stepped in to help by breeding strains like Charlotte’s Web specifically to aid individuals suffering from epilepsy.
Some people debunk its efficiency because of the lack of clinical trials. Yet, as we’ve discussed previously on this site, clinical trials involving cannabis are difficult to complete. There’s a lot of red tape and those involved worry about their reputations given pot’s controversy. The trials are also heavily regulated, which is something some don’t want to deal with: they went into science to find cures, not muddle through political waters.
Still, there is a growing body of research and it’s allowing the belief in cannabis to grow as well
One of the studies that have backed its ability include:
A 2007 study at the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at SUNY: This study found that animal research and clinical experience suggest marijuana may have a place in reducing seizures in those with partial epilepsy. It also involved treatment of a 45-year-old man with cerebral palsy and epilepsy who showed marked improvement with marijuana use.
As far back as 1990, the effects of cannabis on epilepsy were known (which makes one wonder how we’ve only gotten this far). This study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that marijuana appeared to be a protective factor against first seizures in men.
The researchers concluded that marijuana contains numerous cannabinoid compounds with anticonvulsant properties. They also concluded that heroin did the opposite of cannabis: pot protected against seizures, heroin proved to be a risk factor.
The Mayo Clinic offers information on how to treat epilepsy: 200-300 milligrams of CBD taken by mouth daily for up to four and half months
The anticonvulsant properties of cannabis are believed to be the result of the cannabinoids of marijuana and the cannabinoid receptor proteins naturally produced in the body working together to regulate the central nervous system. For the seizures it doesn’t stop, marijuana taps into the brain’s cannabinoid system and works to limit seizure duration by activating the CBD1 receptor.
What is the Legislation Surrounding Marijuana and Epilepsy?
A few different laws regarding cannabis have been proposed specifically in relation to its ability to ward off seizures. Per the Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado, some of these include:
The CARERS Act of 2015 – This law was introduced by the Senate in March 2015 and it’s presently in pending legislation status (if you think the government moves fast, think again). Its objective is to lift the federal barriers to cannabis and CBD research and protect individuals in states with medical cannabis programs.
Importantly, it would move marijuana from a Schedule I status to a Schedule II status. It would also remove CBD from the federal drug schedule entirely.
Charlotte’s Web Medical Hemp Act of 2014 – This law sought to remove therapeutic hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. It was introduced in July of 2014 and died in congress. Had it passed, hemp’s availability would have expanded and a more viable treatment option for those who suffer from uncontrolled seizures (or the threat of uncontrolled seizures) would have grown closer to mainstream.
Improving Regulatory Transparency for New Medical Therapies Act – This act was signed into law in November 2015 after being introduced in February of the same year. Its goal is to create consistency in the Drug Enforcement Agency’s review of new Food and Drug Administration-approved medicines.
This law is important because it sets a timeline in which the Drug Enforcement Agency must schedule new drugs. This speeds up the process of bringing the medicine to the masses. It prevents patients from waiting for access to promising new treatments while the red tape of bureaucracy drags its feet and slows things down.