Epilepsy, Seizures and Medical Marijuana
What are epileptic seizures?
Epileptic seizures result from abnormal surges of electrical activity in the brain which temporarily disturb the communication among brain cells. A seizure can affect any part of the body, causing sudden stiffness, twitching, convulsions, muscle spasms, brief or prolonged loss of consciousness, strange sensations and emotions, and/or abnormal behaviors.
A person is diagnosed with epilepsy when they have two or more seizures that were not provoked by some reversible medical condition such as a high fever, very low blood sugar, or alcohol withdrawal.
Approximately three million Americans, and 60 million people worldwide, are diagnosed with epilepsy. Epilepsy commonly appears during early childhood, or after the age of 60 due to a stroke, brain injury, or dementia. Some children stop having seizures as they grow older, while others require lifelong treatment.
What causes epileptic seizures?
Seizures can be caused by a brain tumor, brain damage, or an infection, but in approximately half of cases, the cause is unidentified.
There are many types of seizures, but they are generally classified in two broad categories. Focal, or partial, seizures are localized in a specific area on one side of the brain. During a focal seizure, a person might experience confusion, memory loss, temporary paralysis, repetitive movement, sensory changes, or loss of awareness. Generalized seizures affect the entire brain, and can result in muscle spasms, jerking, twitching, and loss of consciousness. Some seizures begin as focal seizures and spread to the entire brain.
Most epilepsy sufferers experience more than one type of seizure. Each person’s seizures are unique, but they usually follow the same pattern each time.
What is the treatment for epileptic seizures?
Even mild seizures need to be controlled, because they can result in injuries from falls, drowning, car accidents, and depression and mental problems.
Approximately one third of those diagnosed with epilepsy experience difficulty controlling seizures with medication.
How does medical marijuana help seizures?
Many patients report that medical marijuana has helped reduce seizures, particularly in children and adolescents suffering from medication-resistant forms of epilepsy such as Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS).
Medical marijuana acts on the cells of the central nervous system in a different way from traditional anti-seizure drugs. Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD are able to infiltrate the blood brain barrier and bind with CB1 receptors in the brain to regulate the release of certain neurotransmitters and provide relief from seizures.
Parents of children who are using medical marijuana report other beneficial effects, such as improved moods and fewer behavior problems.
Though the mechanism by which medical marijuana reduces seizures is not yet clearly understood, numerous scientific studies are now being conducted to establish standardized guidelines for dosage and treatment.
Certain types of epileptic seizures are more responsive to medical marijuana than others, and each patient’s physical situation is different. Dosage might have to be adjusted several times to achieve the best results.
Scientific Studies on Medical Marijuana and Epilepsy
- Cannabis, a complex plant: different compounds and different effects on individuals, Zerrin Atakan
- Cannabinoids in the Treatment of Epilepsy
- Report of a parent survey of cannabidiol-enriched cannabis use in pediatric treatment-resistant epilepsy
- Cannabidiol: Pharmacology and potential therapeutic role in epilepsy and other neuropsychiatric disorders
- Parental reporting of response to oral cannabis extracts for treatment of refractory epilepsy
- Cannabidiol in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy: an open-label interventional trial
- Antiepileptic Efficacy Study of Cannabis extract in Children and Young Adults With Dravet Syndrome