Epilepsy: How Cannabis Can Help
Hundreds, if not thousands of families suffering from the effects of epilepsy have moved to Colorado over recent years to find help in the healing ability of cannabis. With Colorado being the first of only four states who have legalized not only medicinal, but recreational marijuana, moving has become a last option for a lot of them. Multiple healing products listing cannabis as the main ingredient have been manufactured for these patients and are being tested in hopes of becoming a regular treatment for all dealing with this disorder.
Epilepsy effects all walks of life ranging from infancy to senior citizens. While there are only several types of epilepsy, each one has a variation of sub-types that are all diagnosed and treated differently.
- Idiopathic Generalized Epilepsy
- Appears in childhood or adolescence but may not be diagnosed until adulthood
- Seizures effecting these patients are myoclonic, absence, and generalized tonic-clonic seizures
- Idiopathic Partial Epilepsy
- Begins in childhood (between 5 & 8), but is almost always outgrown by puberty and never diagnosed in adults
- Seizures effecting these patients are simple partial motor and secondarily generalized (grand-mal) seizures usually occurring during sleep
- Symptomatic Generalized Epilepsy
- Caused by widespread brain damage
- These patients usually suffer from other neurological problems along with seizures
- Seizures effecting these patients are generalized tonic-clonic, tonic, myoclonic, atonic, and absence seizures
- Symptomatic Partial Epilepsy
- Begins mostly in adulthood, but does occur frequently in children as well and is caused by localized abnormality of the brain
- Can be successfully treated with surgery that is aimed to remove the abnormal brain area without compromising the function of the rest of the brain
Most types of epilepsy can be treated with medications but these medications cannot cure epilepsy. About 70% of patients with the disorder can control seizures with medications like Carbamazepine, Diazepam, Clonazepam, Ethosuximide, and Felbamate amongst many others. As helpful as some of these drugs may be, many of them have side effects and most all of them contain genetically modified and unnatural ingredients.
Side effects of these medications include:
- Fatigue, nausea, & vomiting
- Impaired vertigo, blurred vision, & dizziness
- Decreased appetite, weight loss, & depression
- Inability to sleep, headache, & rash
Over the last several years, people have been introduced to alternative products that may prove to be more helpful in controlling seizures, especially in young children with epilepsy. In 2011, the Stanley brothers of Colorado created a cannabis extract by crossbreeding a strain of marijuana with industrial hemp. This product, now referred to as Charlotte’s Web, after a young girl who’s testimony of the extract has been called a miracle, is high in cannabidiol (CBD) and low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In fact, it contains less than 0.3% THC as of September 2014.
Nine year old, Charlotte Figi’s parents sought out this product when they learned of another child with Dravet’s syndrome (a sub-type of Symptomatic Generalized Epilepsy), using a different type of medical marijuana. At the age of 3, Charlotte was severely disabled and having 300 grand mal seizures a week despite traditional treatment. After her first treatment with the cannabis extract, Charlotte improved immediately and significantly. She is now on a normal regime, taking the cannabis oil daily. By 2013, Charlotte was only having about 4 seizures a month and is now able to take part in normal childhood activities.
Another alternative treatment that has recently been seeking the approval of the FDA is Epidiolex. Created by GW Pharmaceuticals, Epidiolex is a high CBD, low THC medication used to treat pediatric epilepsy, mainly Dravet’s and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes. In an open-label study presented at the American Academy of Neurology in Washington D.C. on April 22, 2015, 137 of 213 participants completed 12 weeks or more on the drug. They were observed to see the effectiveness of the drug on controlling seizures. Patient’s ages ranged from 2 to 26, with the average age being 11. All participants had epilepsy that did not respond to currently available treatments. By the end of the 12 weeks, seizures in 137 patients decreased by an average of 54%.
Side effects of Epidiolex:
- Decreased appetite
Epidiolex was generally well tolerated and most side effects were described as mild to moderate and eventually went away. Until the FDA approves this product, the complete list of ingredients remains unknown.
While there are many manufacturers creating CBD oils for different disorders ranging from epilepsy to multiple sclerosis, the cannabis industry is making way for new alternative treatments to be used and their effectiveness cannot be denied.