Does cannabis help or control seizures?
ABC's of CBD
Dear ABC's of CBD,
Opponents of cannabis legalization argue that marijuana isn’t medication. In fact, last week the DEA denied reclassification of marijuana from a Schedule 1 drug - the strictest level of regulation on any kind of drug - because the medical benefits are not overwhelmingly proven. Due to the illegality of this wondrous plant, American researchers haven’t been able to conduct federal studies on the positive or negative effects of cannabis to humans. As a result, countries with less strict cannabis laws are the source for cannabis’ medicinal applications. The chicken-or-egg issue is that without a loosening of restrictions at the federal and state level, the medicinal potential of cannabis will be stunted. Without free market trade that that promises a healthy ROI, corporate America - fearful of punishment - will not invest in research and testing. Without research and testing, much remains unproven. And so on. And so on.
And so the medical miracles offered by cannabis are documented by patients who are desperate enough to waive proof and break the law have offered themselves, their children and their parents as subjects of unsupervised trials. These patients suffer from a variety of disorders including seizures, which is the focus of this post. Those who suffer from epilepsy and enlist cannabis sativa to reduce their seizures. And they swear by it. So. How is this so? Brief biology lesson first.
When examined on a micro level, cannabis is composed of a great quantity and variety of cannabinoids – each having a different effect on the human body. Our bodies have a system of cannabinoid receptors that directly respond to each. This system is succinctly and tellingly called our endocannabinoid system! The receptors are abundant in the human brain and found throughout the body. Aside from cannabis, cannabinoids can be found in other plants like Echinacea.
To date 85 cannabinoids have been identified. The most recognized is THC, which is responsible for inducing the “high.” But there are so many others that contribute to our health, healing and physical response to cannabis intake regardless of the means. Once ingested through inhaling, digesting or lubricating, cannabinoids are directed to our endocannabinoid receptors throughout our body and brain to create the appropriate effect. The pairing and its results are too perfect to ignore: one of healing and well-being.
Back to seizures: Small case studies have shown that the cannabinoid called CBD, or cannabidiol, reduces seizures in medical cannabis patients with no short-term side effects. These results have been seen in patients with both generalized and partial seizure disorders. Generalized seizures are produced by electrical impulses throughout the brain. Partial seizures affect a portion of the brain and - most often - less severe.
The discovery of CBD's effect on seizures dates to ancient medicine in Africa, India and China. Each of these societies used cannabis to treat epilepsy and other seizure disorders. While working in India, Irish-born Dr. William O’Shaughnessy saw medical cannabis at work with his own eyes and became amazed at the impact of hemp extract - in the form of CBD tincture –as an anticonvulsant and muscle relaxant. He was eager to take his findings home.
A well-documented and circulated case involves a little girl named Charlotte Figi who suffers from generalized seizures brought on by a rare genetic epileptic encephalopathy (dysfunction of the brain) known as Dravet Syndrome. A lifelong condition, Dravet Syndrome begins in the first year of life in an otherwise healthy infant. Prior to 1989, this syndrome was known as epilepsy with polymorphic seizures, polymorphic epilepsy in infancy (PMEI) or severe myoclonic epilepsy in infancy (SMEI). Charlotte was prone to up to 50 seizures in a single day. At age 5, she was prescribed a combination of high CBD/low THC oil, which reduced her seizures to 2-3 per month. Today she is 9 years old and no longer on antiepileptic medications thanks to medical cannabis. The non-psychotropic strain, Charlotte’s Web, developed by a family of growers in Colorado, bears her name. More on Charlotte’s story here. More on Charlotte’s Web here.
Watch here as a mother helps her son relieve his seizure symptoms right away with CBD extract.
Another form of medical marijuana available for epileptic patients is called Epidiolex, which is a 99% oil based CBD extract and anti-seizure medication. Though not federally approved, some epilepsy centers were given permission to try this new drug. The study concluded that, of 137 people, 54% reported a reduction in seizures over 12 weeks and found the side effects were more easily tolerated than their seizures. In addition to a decrease in seizures, studies show that using Epidiolex on children increased cognitive skills and hitting developmental milestones such as taking their first steps.
The positive side effects reported from further studies involving CBD and conducted by various research doctors show increased alertness as well as improved mood and sleep with no short-term issues. And CBD betters the issue of pharmaceutical treatments’ long-term decreased tolerance that demands greater and greater quantities. Half of all those with epilepsy that develop seizures eventually become resistant to pharmaceutical medications, but that number can be decreased with the use of CBD.
However, all is not free and clear with CBD as a seizure treatment. More than 10% of subjects in one particular case study experienced sleepiness (21%), diarrhea (17%), fatigue (17%), and increased appetite (16%). Temporary short term memory loss was significant enough to report and heed caution. CBD is also known as a potent enzyme liver inhibitor, meaning the side effects that may seem to be coming from the CBD treatment might actually be coming from other drugs that have been affected by the CBD. Although there is no federal oversight and trial results do not ensure efficacy over time CUREpilepsy and The Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado (EFCO) are both in support of further research of CBD/medical marijuana.
Until cannabis is rescheduled or federally de-criminalized, patients who choose to share their experiences first-hand - much like this one – will serve as a stand in for quantifiable and reliable scientific research on the many benefits of cannabis sativa.