Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that results in abnormal brain activity, causing seizures. Seizures are a period of unusual sensations, behavior, and sometimes loss of awareness.
Symptoms of seizures can vary greatly. Some may continuously twitch their hands and legs, while others stare blankly. But not all seizures can be classified as epilepsy. At least two unprovoked seizure episodes are required to be able to classify it as epilepsy. Medications or surgery may be needed to manage epilepsy. The duration of treatment may also vary. So, some may require life-long medications to control this condition, while in others, the condition eventually goes away.
Around 1.2% of the American population has active epilepsy — making it the fourth most common neurological disorder, with around 150,000 Americans getting diagnosed yearly. And having epilepsy can be terrifying. Between seizures, spasms, and headaches, living with epilepsy is a nightmare that millions of Americans deal with daily.
Luckily, the market is filled with prescription pills that help ease epilepsy symptoms, right? But, there's a small problem. Around 40% of people who take the pills that their doctors prescribe to combat epilepsy symptoms don't respond to the treatment. For these people, help may seem out-of-sight and out-of-mind.
But what if the secret to helping fight epilepsy symptoms wasn't a pill at all. What if it was cannabis?
In the late 1990s, curious researchers started playing around with cannabidiol — one of the "cannabinoids" (or molecules) contained in the cannabis plant. Unlike its sibling cannabinoid delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (i.e., THC), cannabidiol (or CBD) doesn't get you high.
But it does do something. Well, it actually does a lot. The human body contains an endocannabinoid system, which consists of a bunch of receptors for, you guessed it, cannabinoids. There's some controversy on how exactly our bodies got pre-rigged to accept compounds present in the cannabis plant (you can dive down that rabbit hole at your own risk.) But there is one thing that's not controversial — CBD does some pretty profound things when introduced to our cannabinoid receptors.
It plays a role in our appetite, moods, physiology, and psychology. And, it just so happens to shield neurons from oxidative stress — a symptom-causing byproduct of epilepsy. To be fair, the endocannabinoid system plays a massive role in your overall health. And the human body even creates its own cannabinoids. But CBD (in particular) seems to have a profound impact on epilepsy.
In fact, Epidiolex (which is just CBD being branded by a pharmaceutical company), is an FDA approved treatment for epilepsy since 2018. And studies almost all point to the same thing — CBD can help prevent epileptic episodes.
Here are the primary studies concerning CBD and epilepsy.
In total, there are thousands of studies regarding CBD. Not only does CBD help prevent seizures, but it's useful in those who are most at risk of having them — people immune to existing medication.
Much of the clinical research into other cannabinoids and terpenes suggest that there are other compounds found in cannabis (including THC) that may also be effective for seizure treatment. However, because of practical and legal reasons, much of the current research is focused mainly on CBD.
Therefore, which is more effective? is sort of a trick question in that medical marijuana contains CBD. The only difference between medical marijuana and CBD is that medical marijuana contains other cannabinoids (e.g., THC, CBN, etc.) However, we recommend that epilepsy patients take a pure, isolate of CBD compound. You may also choose to take medical marijuana, but CBD should be your primary focus.
With ongoing research, scientists as well as patients are hopeful as they see real promise in the use of CBD, and potentially for other cannabinoids like THC. Of-course it bears mentioning that cannabis as medicine should always be used with caution and care. CBD given at moderate to high doses can potentially effect blood levels of other medications, including anti-seizure drugs. That is why it’s a good idea to monitor levels at the beginning of any therapy. And as always, consult with your doctor or trusted medical professional before starting or introducing any new therapies into your current protocol.
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