Humans have a long and complicated history with marijuana. We have used marijuana for medical purposes, making products such as hemp bags and clothing, and of course, for recreational use.
A study published in The Journal of the International League Against Epilepsy shows that medical marijuana use dates back to 2700 B.C. in China, where it was used to treat various medical conditions like gout, malaria, and menstrual disorders.
Pew Research Center published a survey in 2019 that found that 91 percent of Americans believe in the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Many extol the medical benefits of marijuana, including its use as a treatment for epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that presents as an epileptic fit wherein the subject experiences repeated seizures and sometimes loss of consciousness. The epileptic fit occurs due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain, the fourth most common disorder of the central nervous system. Anyone may experience an epileptic fit regardless of age, sex, race, or health.
An epileptic fit can include a variety of different and sometimes contradictory symptoms. For example, some people experience wild erratic eye movement and cannot focus during seizures, while others stare blankly. Other symptoms may include:
- Convulsions and shaking
- Temporary confusion
- Loss of awareness
- Fear, deja vu, anxiety, and panic
A diagnosis of epilepsy will be made if a patient experiences two or more unprovoked seizures. Treatment for this neurological condition includes anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs), surgery, and even a special ketogenic diet.
There are two types of surgery to treat epilepsy. The first is where a surgeon removes a small part of the brain that is believed to cause epileptic seizures. The second type is where a small electrical device is implanted inside the patient’s body that helps control epileptic seizures.
About 50% of people with epilepsy have no identifiable cause. However, for the other half who experience epilepsy, the causes can be identified through these factors:
There are many types of epilepsy. Some run in families; family members can inherit genetic defects or mutations that make them more sensitive to epilepsy triggers.
The brains of patients who have suffered from head trauma may swell, which may result in epileptic seizures.
A stroke, brain tumor, or brain infection may also cause epileptic seizures. Strokes that involve brain bleeds are more likely to cause epilepsy, particularly in adults over 35 years of age. One study showed that 5% of people who had a stroke would experience one epileptic seizure, and 7% would develop epilepsy within 30 months after experiencing a stroke.
Epilepsy can also be caused by other factors. These include prenatal injuries, alcohol and drug abuse, lack of oxygen during birth, developmental disorders, and more.
Is Marijuana Beneficial in Treating Epilepsy?
According to altitudeorganic.com, Cannabidiol (or CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol are the main cannabinoids in medical marijuana. Numerous research studies have shown that CBD is an effective anticonvulsant and can be beneficial in reducing epileptic seizures.
Furthermore, CBD does not produce any adverse psychoactive side effects and is less likely to be abused. Studies also show that marijuana can help epileptic patients who don’t respond to traditional medications.
Some of the few studies supporting cannabis use as a treatment for epilepsy include:
- A study entitled “Effects of Cannabidiol On Drop Seizures In the Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome” revealed that combining CBD with other seizure medications lead to a significant reduction in atonic seizures in children and adults.
The study involved 225 participants divided into three groups. Two groups received regular epilepsy medicines combined with varying amounts of CBD. The third group received standard epilepsy medication and a placebo.
The first group, which had the highest dosages of CBD combined with other epilepsy medications, saw a 41.9% decrease in the frequency of seizures. The second group with a lesser dosage of CBD combined with other epilepsy medication saw a 37.2% decrease in the frequency of seizures. The third group, composed of patients who received a placebo and normal epilepsy medication, saw a 17.2% decrease in the frequency of seizures.
- A second study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, showed similar results regarding epilepsy treatment with marijuana. The study found that 43% of patients who were given CBD along with seizure medication experienced a 50% decrease in convulsive seizures.
However, only 27% of patients treated with CBD alone saw a 50% decrease in convulsive seizure frequency. In other words, using CBD alone can reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures and using it with other anti-seizure medications increases its effectiveness.
- Epidiolex, an FDA-approved oral treatment, was found to reduce seizures in 54% of patients. Seizure medication did not work for patients aged 2 to 26.
- A 2017 study published in The Journal of Epilepsy Research showed that seizures were significantly reduced in two epilepsy conditions (Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome) when patients received a specific dose of CBD products. In some cases, seizures even stopped altogether.
Epilepsy can be a complicated disorder that impacts the quality of life for both those with it and their loved ones. There is substantial scientific evidence to suggest that CBD, an active ingredient of medical marijuana, can be successfully used to reduce the incidence of epileptic seizures.