Alternative Medicine for Epilepsy
A recent wave of measures legalizing cannabidiol (CBD) oil has been in large part driven by individuals and families who are seeking alternative treatment for seizures or epilepsy. 12 states have ‘CBD-only’ legislation in the works but have no plan to include a medical cannabis program that would allow for consumption of anything except for the oil. Some of these states do not even have a system in place for the production or distribution of the oil. As important as these first steps are toward greater acceptance of cannabis, for those who actually need the medicine there is a big difference between “accepted” and “accessible.” Parents of children with debilitating epileptic syndromes or childhood seizure disorders are at the forefront of this battle. Epilepsy is a group of neurological disorders characterized by recurring epileptic seizing. Abnormal neuronal activity in the brain causes this seizing, which can create uncontrolled jerking movements in the body or more subtly, a momentary loss of awareness. Although the cause of epilepsy is unknown people are often diagnosed after sustaining a brain injury, stroke, brain tumor, drug and alcohol abuse, and more rarely from genetic predispositions.
When it comes to treatment, there are limited options: antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), ketogenic diets, high doses of steroids, and invasive brain surgeries. Certain pediatric syndromes don’t respond at all to conventional medicine making even studying them extremely difficult. Children with Dravet, Doose, or Lennox-Gastaut syndromes can suffer hundreds of seizures or long successions of seizures daily their entire lives. Because seizures lock up their brain throughout the day, they experience developmental and behavioral delays that can diminish their quality of life. As medical marijuana becomes more available, patients and their families see hope for the future for positive treatments for seizures.
Although the neuroprotective effects of cannabis have been observed for half a century and the anticonvulsive properties of cannabis have been studied since the early 80’s, it wasn’t until the development of CBD-rich strains(CBD Oil) that cannabis was prescribed to treat epileptic conditions. In one study conducted by Stanford University 84% of children who were treatment-resistant to pharmaceutical medicines reported a reduction in the frequency of seizures while taking CBD-enriched cannabis in the form of oil. Another study at the University of Colorado reported that 100% of similar patients saw reductions in seizure frequency. Because breeders can isolate the high-CBD trait in the plant, states with stringent medical marijuana programs can offer an oil made from these specially bred strains. Since “cannabidiol (CBD)” is a non-psychotropic component of Cannabis Sativa consuming it alone will not get you ‘high.’ Not only does this lower the potential for abuse, it helps remove some of the stigmas associated with cannabis use.
A “CBD-rich oil” works in many patients, but not all. In the same study conducted at Stanford, 15% of the patients experienced no change in frequency of seizures. Some patients with epileptic syndromes, as well as cancer and MS, are experiencing additional benefits when they consume an oil rich in both CBD and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol.) Dr. Ethan Russo coined the term ‘entourage effect‘ to describe what is likely happening. Since cannabis has hundreds of phytotherapeutic agents working simultaneously isolating just one does not work for all people. Even if their conditions are the same, their brain might be reacting to different chemicals found within cannabis, and it is the contribution of these minor cannabinoids and terpenoids that determines individual effectiveness. For this very reason, it is not recommended to buy CBD-enriched products from anywhere but a medical dispensary or retail cannabis store as hemp-based products purchasable online will not have the same active compounds.