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Guide to Treating Epilepsy with Cannabis

Cannabis has shown to be an effective way to reduce epileptic seizures and other symptoms of epilepsy. CBD oil is used in both adults and children for treating epilepsy. According to the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance, it’s expected that approximately 260,000 Canadians have epilepsy (7.46 per every 1,000 people). 

So, what is epilepsy?

It’s a neurological condition that causes repeated seizures. If someone has more than two seizures, they are considered to have epilepsy or to be epileptic.

The symptoms of seizures may include; temporary confusion, a staring spell, uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs, loss of consciousness or awareness, or psychic symptoms such as fear, anxiety or deja vu.

There is no identifiable cause for epilepsy. The good news is that there is relief. In recent years there is a lot of research being done about epilepsy and CBD oil in Canada, the USA and in other parts of the world. In June 2018, CBD, as synthetic Epidiolex, was approved by the FDA for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, in patients two years of age and older. 

To get FDA approval, drug manufacturers must conduct lab, animal, and human clinical testing then submit their data to the FDA. A drug gets approved when the agency determines the benefits outweigh the risks for the drugs’ intended use. Therefore, a sufficient amount of research supports the safe use of CBD for treating epilepsy according to the FDA. We will outline some of this research later in the article; first, let’s familiarize ourselves with epilepsy and seizures.

Types of Seizures

There are two types of epileptic seizures; generalized seizures and partial seizures. Partial seizures are localized to one area of the brain and generalized seizures involve all areas of the brain. Cannabis is an effective treatment for both types of seizures. 

Generalized Seizures

  • Begin at an unknown location in the brain
  • Begin over the entire surface of the brain
  • May involve the whole body
  • Usually caused by genetics
Partial Seizures

  • Sometimes called focal seizures
  • Begin in a specific location in the brain
  • They may affect Awareness
  • Can affect one side or part of the body
  • Could affect the entire body

People with epilepsy can have more than one kind of seizure. 

Traditional Treatment

Antiepileptic medicines (anticonvulsants) help prevent seizures in approximately half of the people who take them. Since epilepsy is difficult to treat, patients are often on more than one anti-seizure medication. This can cause more problems and side effects of these medications can be unpleasant and risky. Some of the most common side effects of treating epilepsy with pharmaceutical medication include:

  • Depression
  • Double vision
  • Headaches
  • Hair loss (Alopecia)
  • Impotence
  • Irritability
  • Liver failure
  • Mood disturbances
  • Nausea
  • Sedation
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Slurred speech
  • Weight gain

There are few reported side effects associated with the use of CBD. 

As mentioned previously there are a few types of epilepsy that are resistant to traditional treatment. Refractory epilepsy is defined as epilepsy that is unable to be controlled through typical means. Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut (LGS) fit into the category of refractory epilepsy as they’re treatment-resistant but not all people with refractory epilepsy fall into one of these two categories. 

Before getting into treating epilepsy with cannabis we will define these two types of epilepsy as the research focuses on these two conditions.

Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS)

Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) impacts approximately 5-10% of all epileptic patients, and 1-2% of all children with epilepsy. LGS is a type of epilepsy with multiple different types of seizures, particularly tonic (stiffening) and atonic (drop) seizures. It’s a type of “epileptic encephalopathy” which means that the frequent seizures and abnormal EEG (electroencephalograph) activity worsens cognitive and behavioural problems. This sometimes leads to delayed intellectual development and behavioural problems, such as hyperactivity, agitation, aggression and autism, are common.

Dravet Syndrome

Dravet syndrome is a rare type of genetic epileptic encephalopathy that presents with seizures that don’t respond well to typical anticonvulsant medications. It typically begins in the first year of life in an otherwise healthy infant. Dravet syndrome affects 1 in 15,700 individuals in the US (or 0.0064% of the population).

Treating Epilepsy with Cannabis

Although traditional anticonvulsant medications can be effective, epilepsy is challenging to treat over time and there are many types of epilepsy, like LGS, Dravet syndrome and refractory epilepsy, that are resistant to treatment. Here is some of the research that supports the use of cannabis, particularly CBD, for treating epilepsy:

  • A 2008 study, found that neuroprotective factors were impaired in the hippocampus of people with epilepsy which indicates the importance of the endocannabinoid system in neuron excitability that leads to epileptic seizures. 
  • A 2018 study found that adding CBD (10-20mg per kilogram per day) to a traditional seizure medication decreased the frequency of drop seizures significantly in children and adults with LGS.
  • A 2017 study found that CBD resulted in a greater decrease in convulsive-seizures than placebo and 5% of the individuals became seizure-free after taking CBD.  

Many studies provide evidence to support the use of CBD for epilepsy though it appears that many doctors are waiting for more clinical data to support the use of CBD for treating epilepsy, therefore are only currently prescribing CBD to individuals whose symptoms are not manageable by any other means. 

Autism and Epilepsy Connection

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and epilepsy appear to have a connection. Those diagnosed with ASD appear to be more likely to have epilepsy or suffer from seizures (source). As a result, individuals diagnosed with both ASD and epilepsy are often treated with CBD for their seizures. This treatment tends to also lead to an improvement in the symptoms associated with ASD. So, research on CBD continues to expand and provides continued support for its use in treating numerous conditions and ailments.

Read more about treating Autism with Cannabis.

CBD for Treating Seizures in Children Under 19

There have been many advances in treating health conditions with cannabis in children under 19. Dr. Michael Verbora, a medical director at Canabo Medical Clinic in Surrey, BC, says he has seen “tremendous” results with cannabis therapy. He currently has 10 pediatric patients with Autism who are using this treatment. One of his patients is just seven years old.

Dr. Verbora says that “the worst side effects I’m seeing are a little bit of sedation, but it’s typically nowhere near the traditional pharmaceuticals these same patients would use for their behaviours anyway.” Moreover, many other doctors also support his view and many turn to cannabis when conventional treatment methods fail. 

Success Stories of Treating Epilepsy with Cannabis

Many people with epilepsy have amazing results with cannabis therapy. A couple of stories from CTV News feature two families where they discuss how CBD has helped to relieve seizures. There is also another story about a teen in the USA who also had similar seizure relief. There are many other stories featured on the Epilepsy Foundation’s community forum, on Reddit and other reputable sites. 

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Start Treating Epilepsy with Cannabis

Thinking about treating epilepsy with cannabis? We recommend you speak to your doctor, particularly if you’re taking anticonvulsant medication as there are possible drug interactions. With the support of your doctor, you may be able to reduce, or completely eliminate your current medication.

Check out our shop for many CBD options today! Also, if you’re using CBD to treat epilepsy, or to manage seizures, we want to hear from you! Leave a comment about your experience and how you use cannabis for treating epilepsy, tag us on social media, or send us a message at support@missenvy.ca.

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