Epilepsy is a condition where the electrical activity in the brain becomes disrupted, causing a seizure. Patients are diagnosed with epilepsy if they have more than two unprovoked seizures that are at least 24 hours apart. More than 2 million people in the U.S. have epilepsy, but not all of them can benefit from the current medications on the market that help reduce seizures.
The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics is testing therapies that might work for refractory epilepsy, which impacts 30 percent of epileptics and simply means that medications don't work; it's sometimes called drug-resistant epilepsy. One promising therapy that might work for some patients, including pediatric patients, is the use of medical marijuana.
How Does Medical Marijuana Work Against Epilepsy?
There are two main cannabinoids in marijuana. The first is delta-9-tetrahyrdrocannabinol, known as THC, which is responsible for the psychoactive effects of the drug that are often promoted in recreational use. The second is cannabidiol, or CBD, and that is the component that researchers are analyzing for its anticonvulsant properties.
The exact way that CBD helps to reduce seizures isn't well understood yet and can be confusing because the body's CB1 and CB2 receptors that react to cannabinoids don't seem to have a strong reaction to it. However, anecdotal experiences have shown promise in completely eliminating seizures in several pediatric patients and are setting the stage for researchers to take a more scientific look at exactly how CBD works on the brain.
Is There a Downside to Using Marijuana for Epileptics?
Some patients who experience seizures may not be comfortable with the psychoactive side effects of marijuana, but the use of cannabis oil which is low in THC may minimize this. There are no conclusive studies about the impact of marijuana on a child's brain, but again, the side effects seem to be less problematic than frequent seizures. Currently the long-term impact of using marijuana to treat seizures must continue to be studied in animal and human models.
What are the Next Steps?
Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and Washington, D.C., so patients who have epilepsy or other seizure disorders may be able to find a doctor in their area who can prescribe cannabis. Otherwise, researchers are continuing to test theories and study the mechanisms for why cannabis may be helpful to reduce or eliminate seizures. You may be able to participate in a research study involving medical marijuana for brain condition treatments like epilepsy. If you have questions about seizure disorders, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about possible drug treatments, including medical marijuana.
For more information, contact Allegheny Brain And Spine Surgeons or a similar organization.Share
10 February 2016
My name is Katie Langer. For a long time, I was bed ridden and I felt like I had no control over my life. I simply went along with what was instructed by my doctor and I didn't ask questions. It wasn't that my doctor wasn't willing to work with me, but I preferred to simply not think about the illness I was suffering from. I didn't realize that some of the symptoms I was suffering from were side effects of my medication and were not normal. After communicating more with my doctor, I was able to alleviate my symptoms. Since then, I've taken an interest in patient-doctor relationships and how to improve them.