Epilepsy is a neurological disease that causes recurring unprovoked seizures. Those affected may suffer from neurobiological, cognitive, psychological and social concerns. In scientific, medical terms, a seizure is an abnormal, excessive, synchronous discharge of neurons residing primarily in the brain’s cerebral cortex. A recent study by the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) has produced a revised definition for the disease. It states that a person is considered to have epilepsy if they meet any of these following conditions.
The seizures range in duration and intensity from barely noticeable to vigorous and lengthy. The most extreme cases such as Dravets Syndrome can result in up to 300 grand mal seizures a day. About 1% of the world’s population suffers from epilepsy, with 80% of cases occurring in developing countries.
The actual cause of most cases of epilepsy is unknown, although in some cases it can develop as a result of brain damage (caused by tumors, strokes, trauma or infections) or drug and alcohol misuse. However, genetics are increasingly believed to be involved directly or indirectly.
AEDs or Anti Epileptic Drugs are the primary medicine prescribed to control seizures. They only serve to provide palliative care, not a cure. There are 20 different types of AEDS, which work by reducing the excessive electrical activity in the brain that causes seizures. Although it can take time to find the correct drug for each individual, in the majority of cases, the seizures can be completely controlled. In more extreme cases sufferers are left with limited treatments such as a ketogenic diet, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), brain or neurosurgery or now increasingly, medicinal marijuana.
In the UK 600,000 people are living with epilepsy resulting in approximately 1000 fatalities a year. AEDs may cause a number of side effects, the most common of which are sedation and dizziness, weight gain or loss, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and loss of libido or impotence. As a result doctors use “optimal therapy” when prescribing epilepsy patients with AEDs to achieve the minimal dose and number of drugs needed to control the seizures, and also to minimize side effects.
Medical Marijuana Efficacy
Marijuana, or more specifically the cannabinoid compound CBD, represents the most exciting development in the history of treating Epilepsy. CBD has neuroprotective anti-inflammatory effects, and is tolerated well in humans. It is now thought to have a strong capability in controlling seizures where other pharmaceutical AED’s have failed. It also can increase brain activity leading to improvements in speech, communication, physicality and overall quality of life. Furthermore CBD has none of the psychoactive properties of THC, as well as greatly reduced side effects in comparison with the AEDs.
CBD rich cannabis oils such as Charlotte’s Web (which has 0.2% THC content) has been used successfully in Colorado with children suffering from Dravet’s Syndrome – more often than not untreatable with AED’s. The CNN reported case of Charlotte Figis is the most remarkable: in the space of 6 months Charlotte went from having an average of 300 seizures a month to one; went from being in a wheel chair and eating through a tube, to walking and feeding herself unaided and from a concoction of AED’s and pharmaceutical products to just cannabis oil.
This sensational news of CBD’s medical capabilities in the treatment of Epilepsy and its non-psychoactive properties have paved the way for medical marijuana legislation across the world. It has also created hundreds of medical refugee families forced to relocate to Colorado to gain access to the treatment, with 5000 people currently on the waiting list for Charlottes Web.
UKs GW Pharmaceuticals currently have a CBD based product called Epidolex on trial for the treatment of Epilepsy in the USA and the UK.
Official Research Reports
Marijuana: an effective antiepileptic treatment in partial epilepsy? (Mortati K, Dworetzky B, Devinsky O, 2007)
Treatment with CBD in oily solution of drug-resistant paediatric epilepsies (Pelliccia A, Grassi G, Romano A, Crocchialo P, 2005)
Anticonvulsant effect of cannabidiol (Ames FR, Cridland S, 1986)
Chronic administration of cannabidiol to healthy volunteers and epileptic patients (Cunha JM, Carlini EA, Pereira AE, Ramos OL, Pimentel C, Gagliardi R, Sanvito WL, Lander N, Mechoulam R, 1980)
Anticonvulsant nature of marihuana smoking (Consroe PF, Wood GC, Buchsbaum H, 1975)
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