The general public in the US is very interested in cannabis’ medical potential. There are a lot of ongoing studies analyzing its potential benefits and drawbacks. Among others, researchers believe that the plant can assist people struggling with epilepsy.
In this article, we will talk about how medical cannabis helps epilepsy and whether you should use it.
How does cannabis work?
There are three subspecies of the cannabis plant: Cannabis Indica, Cannabis Sativa, and Cannabis Ruderalis. For the purpose of this article, we will focus on Cannabis Indica (marijuana) and Cannabis Sativa (hemp).
Although they come from the same family, these plants are very different in terms of their chemical structure. Yes, they both have the same compounds, but what makes the difference is the proportion of these substances.
Hemp is commonly utilized for its high CBD content. This substance carries numerous beneficial properties and can improve alertness, mood, focus, appetite, and soothe muscle tissue. On the other hand, marijuana has a high quantity of psychoactive THC. Although the substance can cause psychedelic episodes, it can also relax our brain and muscles and help us go to sleep.
Marijuana and hemp have numerous overlapping properties and somewhat similar benefits. However, when we talk about epilepsy, we need to focus on CBD or cannabidiol. The substance can interact with the cannabinoid receptors that are an integral part of the endocannabinoid system. When CBD binds to these receptors, it can harmonize internal processes and restore the optimal functionality of the organism.
You might be interested in our article about how medical marijuana can be beneficial for those who suffer from IBS.
What does the research imply?
Keep in mind that we’ve just recently started using cannabis for its medical properties. We don’t have much data about its potential interactions, and a lot is based on speculations and user data.
One of the reasons why studies are so scarce is because of the complexity of the process. When researchers want to study the plant, they need to get a special study license from the Drug Enforcement Administration. While this might sound like a routine procedure, not everyone will get that permission.
Nevertheless, there were a few studies that raised optimism. Cannabis-related research in the US has been performed since the 1970s. As more and more countries embrace medical marijuana and hemp, we have more relevant data.
According to the initial theories, CBD can slow down message sending and receiving within the brain. So, when we are about to experience a seizure, it won’t be as drastic as usual. Another theory claims that cannabidiol can change levels of calcium, which is another way to affect brain cell signaling. According to the third theory, the substance should be effective for epilepsy due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Seizures and Epidiolex
Recently, the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures in people suffering from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. These are rare forms of childhood seizures. Epidiolex is a cannabidiol oil made through a process of cannabis purification. In that sense, we are already using hemp extracts for certain types of seizures.
After additional studies, it was discovered that the drug also provides benefits for the tuberous sclerosis complex. This is another rare condition that causes seizures. Tuberous sclerosis is caused by benign tumors that form in the brain or other body parts.
The substance comes in the form of liquid for oral use. A patient needs to administer it with a special syringe. Epidiolex got its approval for the treatment of Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome after 4 separate clinical trials on 516 patients.
According to empirical evidence, the product can reduce the number of episodes when you use it with other anti seizure drugs. When tested for tuberous sclerosis complex, the medicine improved the condition of 48% of participants.
The only problem with Epidiolex is that patients were also given other substances during the trials. Nevertheless, the combination has provided great results. Keep in mind that Epidiolex will not work for everyone as some patients have experienced severe side effects.
What are the potential side effects of cannabis?
The potential side effects of cannabis products can vary significantly. The market is very segmented, and there is a lot to be desired in terms of control. So, CBD oil bought in one store can be completely different from the product you would get from another one. In most cases, the severity of side effects has to do with CBD and THC concentration.
Generally speaking, CBD is a fairly harmless chemical. It might cause side effects such as drowsiness, nausea, change in appetite, dizziness, diarrhea, low blood pressure, and a few other issues. Most of them are short-lived and will stop as soon as you stop the treatment.
If a product has a high concentration of THC, the potential side effects can be much more severe. Prolonged use of marijuana can lead to memory issues and even cause damage to the brain. In extreme cases, patients may experience psychosis. And if you miss a dose, the episodes will likely restart.
If you start using Epidiolex, you can expect similar issues as with CBD. Patients sometimes report drawbacks like nausea, diarrhea, and fatigue. Sometimes, a person might have an increased concentration of liver enzymes. Cannabidiol has a similar impact on our body as grapefruit juice preventing the metabolization of other substances in our stomach. This is especially troublesome if you’re using some other drugs, as it will become harder to process this medication.
Which cannabis product is best for epilepsy?
If you decide to try cannabis for epilepsy, we suggest that you go with a hemp-derived substance. They have a high concentration of cannabidiol, with very little THC. Even if your condition doesn’t improve, you shouldn’t experience severe side effects as you would with marijuana.
You should also consider whether your source of medical cannabis supports conventional vs organic products as this can also trigger potential reactions after consumption.
Of course, Epidiolex can provide a good solution for young patients suffering from Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. But we don’t know how it would act for other forms of epilepsy.
Ideally, a patient might wish to try sublingual CBD oil. CBD edibles and CBD vapes might also provide some relief, as well.