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Get Briefed On MMJ For Epilepsy

Sure, you've probably heard of it before.  But do you know what it is?

Epilepsy is characterized by recurring seizures of variable intensity and effect caused by disturbances in specific regions of the brain’s circuitry that create storms of extra electrical activity. A seizure disorder in itself can disrupt someones life when it comes to day to day activities, whether simple or intense.  Approximately 1 in every 26 Americans will develop epilepsy in their lifetime, and two-thirds of those diagnosed will have no specific origin for the disorder. Shockingly, a whopping 35% of childhood deaths are due to epilepsy or accidents that occur during seizures.

Evidence from laboratory studies, anecdotal reports, and small clinical studies from over a span of years suggests that cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound of cannabis, is potentially helpful in controlling seizures.  Although restrictions on cannabis research make it rather difficult for scientists to 100% prove cannabis' effectiveness in regards to cannabis, corporations such as GW Pharmaceuticals have open-label studies of the plant with their drug Epidiolex.  This is an example of a 99% oil-based CBD extract from the cannabis plant that the FDA has given some epilepsy centers permission to use this drug as "compassionate use" for a limited number of people.

When conventional pharmaceutical treatments do not work, as is the case for roughly 30% of people with epilepsy, many turn to cannabis.  Many parents across the country have been scrutinized, shamed and even face jail time for choosing to treat their epileptic child with cannabis instead of pharmaceuticals.  In fact, there is now a strain of cannabis oil called Charlotte's Web, named after Charlotte Figi, a then eight-year-old girl from Colorado with Dravet syndrome.

A study conducted by The New England Journal of Medicine found that CBD can reduce epileptic seizures in some children.  This study clearly establishes cannabidiol as an effective anti-seizure drug for this disorder and this age group," says principal investigator Orrin Devinsky, director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at New York University Langone Medical Center. “It certainly deserves to be studied in other types of epilepsy.”

“Quite remarkably, 5 percent of the children in the active treatment group with CBD were completely seizure free during the 14 weeks of the trial,” Devinsky said. “And these were kids who were often having dozens of seizures, if not many more than that per week.”

Devinsky explains that it is not clear exactly how CBD works but, it appears to attach to the brain cells. “The CBD binds with a novel receptor in the brain and thereby dampens down too much electrical activity,” he said. “It seems to be a relatively unique mechanism of action that's not shared by any of the existing seizure medications.”

Seizures are the most severe symptom of epilepsy which involve involuntary muscle spasms (convulsions) which may last seconds or minutes. Epileptic seizures can occur without an understandable cause however, they are often triggered by stress, high fever, sleep deprivation, strobing lights, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and even boredom. Seizures are usually followed by an “aura,” or a state of altered behavior that involves sensitivity to light, sound and strange smells.  Aura behavior can also include a sudden feeling of fear, visual hallucinations, the inability to speak, nausea, and numbness or tingling sensations. An aura can last a few seconds before a seizure or for up to 60 minutes preceding one.

There are different categories of seizures as well. Absence may be considered one of the least debilitating of them all, with it being characterized as lapses in consciousness. Myoclonic seizures involve sporadic (isolated) jerking movements whereas Clonic symptoms include repetitive jerking movements.  A Tonic seizure is when muscle stiffens and become rigid. Atonic is the other less severe type of seizure; involving the loss of muscle tone.  The worst of them all is a Grand Mal seizure,  a.k.a a generalized tonic-clonic. A Grand Mal seizure is pretty much a combination of all of the above; characterized by muscle rigidity, full-body convulsions, and unconsciousness. 

Ancient societies in Africa, China, Greece, India, and Rome used cannabis to treat epilepsy and other seizure disorders.  It isn't until late that rigorous testing is being performed to discover the true benefits of cannabis for epilepsy. Prior to cannabis, most epilepsy patients are prescribed one or more anticonvulsants like  carbamazepine (Tegretol), phenytion (Dilantin), primidone (Mysoline), valproic acid (Depakote), clonazepam (Klonopin), ethosuximide (Zarontin), and phenobarbital (just to name a few).  Ask any epilepsy patient about their effectiveness and most will probably say they don't work and that the negative side affects actually make it worse. Side effects of conventional pharmaceutical drugs include headaches, loss of hair, nausea, depression, liver failure, sedation, slurring of speech, double vision, weight gain, sleep disturbances, and irritability.

Currently, there are 29 legal medical marijuana states in the country that have access to CBD for epilepsy treatment. There are countless families that suffer from not being able to receive better treatment because their state does not recognize cannabis as a medicine. In some states, like New York, it is unfortunate that epileptic patients must exhaust all other pharmaceutical options before they are even allowed to consider MMJ as treatment. As states continue to legalize and researchers slowly gain approval to run more tests on cannabis, we see and hear about more epileptic men and women successfully using cannabis for treatment.