Americans’ views on marijuana is undergoing a tremendous shift. 30 years ago, medical marijuana seemed like a pipe dream. But slowly and steadily, people have started to approve its use and many states have legalized it both for medical reasons as well as for recreational use.
One area that has seen the greatest shift is in the treatment of seizures. But there are still some misconceptions about medical marijuana, and knowing a few facts concerning its use for epilepsy can help clear things up.
Unlike recreational marijuana which is the leaves and female flowers of the cannabis plant, medical marijuana, refers to the whole, unprocessed marijuana plant (or its basic extracts) and is prescribed by a doctor for medical reasons. A cannabinoid is a compound produced by the cannabis plant that interacts with the brain’s receptors. Out of all the cannabinoids found in marijuana, THC and CBD are the most common. While THC often affects the way people think and feel, CBD helps with pain and with many other symptoms. For instance, CBD has been known to be especially effective for reducing seizures in many people with epilepsy. In fact, medicinal CBD-rich oil, a concentrate made from cannabis and specifically formulated to have low levels of THC and higher levels of CBD, has been viewed as a miracle drug in recent years. Medical research now suggests that this non-psychoactive compound is responsible for major seizure reduction in one particular group: children and teenagers who suffer from Dravet syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which often begins early in life and is particularly resistant to traditional medication.
Watching a baby in the middle of a seizure is incredibly hard for anyone to witness, most of all for the baby’s parents. That was the case with Charlotte Figi, who from the age of three was suffering with more than 300 grand mal seizures a week. Her parents- desperate and scared- decided to treat her with a specially prepared CBD oil and the results were dramatic. That was in 2007, and now Charlotte is 12 years old. It’s fair to say that everyone’s life has been dramatically changed– Charlotte Figi’s, her parents, and the many thousands of kids suffering from the same, rare type of epilepsy—all thanks to CBD!
Charlotte Figi’s dramatic recovery fueled the fire for further research and an entire field of research was cracked wide open. The medical community now embraces what parents like Charlotte’s have known for years- that the non-psychoactive component known as CBD is able to reduce epileptic seizures in children—big time. The most well-known study, a double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation on 120 children and teenagers with Dravet syndrome, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2017, shows how impactful CBD is as an effective anti-seizure drug for this disorder. Orrin Devinsky, director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at New York University’s Langone Medical Center went as far as saying that “it certainly deserves to be studied in other types of epilepsy.”
Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological diseases. It affects about 3 million Americans, with 400,000 of those being children. One-third of these people have the kind of epilepsy that is treatment-resistant, and there has been a big push to find a way to help them. New research shows promise- CBD works and causes less side effects. There is now renewed hope for those who suffer from epilepsy.
The word marijuana sometimes gives the perception that medical marijuana is just an excuse for recreational users to get high. While that narrative is finally starting to change, physicians need to do more to integrate cannabis into their medical practice. This will in turn fuel more research and ultimately affect other medical cannabis policies. Awareness is the key, as is a willingness to move forward with meaningful research which is at the core of this evolving field.
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