Cannabis & Seizures: What The Science Says

Researchers have reason to think cannabis might be an alternative worth considering when it comes to many medical conditions, particularly in patients diagnosed with epilepsy or other seizure disorders. It’s known that up to a third of patients diagnosed with seizure disorders don’t respond well to prescribed pharmaceutical medications, so finding other ways to treat seizures is important to many of these patients and their families. 
What Causes A Seizure?

Seizures can be caused by anything that interrupts the normal connections between your brain’s nerve cells. High fever, high or low blood sugar, alcohol or drug withdrawal, or a brain concussion can all cause seizures. Sometimes, stress, worry, or fear can even lead to seizures. A grand mal seizure (the most common kind) causes a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions. It’s the type of seizure most people picture when they think about seizures. Warning signs of a seizure may include feeling dizzy, involuntary jerking or twitching, fainting, vomiting, losing sensation in certain parts of the body, or blacking out.

A seizure disorder is a medical condition characterized by episodes of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain, thus producing symptoms that include two or more seizures. When a person has two or more seizures with no known cause, this is called epileptic seizure disorder or epilepsy.

After you experience a seizure or series of seizures, you should go to a doctor who can review your symptoms and medical history. That doctor may order tests to determine the cause of your seizure and evaluate how likely it is that you’ll have another one. 


Why Do Seizures Require Treatment?

When someone has a seizure, they can incur bruises, cuts, burns, broken bones, and head injuries due to uncontrolled spasms or twitching. While many patients’ seizures naturally go into remission in adulthood, it’s important to seek treatment after even a single seizure episode so that symptoms can be monitored. 

Most patients can control their seizures if treated with the right medications. However, u8p to a third of epilepsy patients don’t grow out of their condition and don’t respond well to anti-epileptic medications. When these medications fail to bring seizures under control, it’s known as refractory epilepsy, or intractable epilepsy. About 1 in 3 of people with epilepsy have intractable seizures.

In terms of alternative treatments to pharmaceuticals, doctors may recommend diet and lifestyle changes. They may also recommend Vagal Nerve Stimulation (VNS), which involves implanting a stimulator device that sends pulses of electrical energy to the brain through the vagus nerve to help stop future seizures. Epilepsy surgery might also be an option for about half of children with intractable epilepsy. 


Cannabis As An Alternative Treatment for Seizures 

Your body contains a system of neurotransmitters and receptors called the endocannabinoid system. This system is thought to help regulate functions in your body such as appetite, sleep, pain, and immune system response. The compound in the cannabis plant known as Cannabidiol (CBD) has been identified by researchers as a means to modify these functions by interacting with receptors in the endocannabinoid system.

CBD has been studied in recent years as a potential treatment for some of epilepsy’s most troubling symptoms, particularly for children. In 2016, a CBD-based pharmaceutical called Epidiolex was approved by the FDA. Studies have shown it significantly reduces seizures in people with three different, rare types of epilepsy.

CBD is thought to treat symptoms of epilepsy by desensitizing certain ion channels that cause convulsions. When the patient takes CBD, the rapidly firing motor output that they experience during a seizure temporarily slows, allowing a reprieve from convulsions. 

In a recent study, patients with epilepsy who use medicinal marijuana reported that cannabis can control their seizures and positively affect mood disorders. Another study found that the cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) appears to be helpful in treating epileptic seizures in children.

While not everyone with epilepsy should consider medical cannabis as a treatment option, some patients living with uncontrolled seizures have reported beneficial effects and reduced seizure activity when using medical cannabis, especially strains that are rich in CBD.


Other Considerations for Seizure Patients

There is evidence that CBD may enhance the effect of the medication clobazam (Onfi), often used to treat epilepsy. There’s also evidence that CBD may enhance the effect of some other antiepileptic drugs. It’s very important to work with your doctor when using CBD oil to help treat seizures. Your doctor can help determine if CBD will interact with any of your current medications. 

If you begin using CBD oil to treat seizures, don’t stop taking it abruptly as it may lead to an increase in seizure activity. 

As a medical marijuana patient, you should only purchase CBD from a state-licensed dispensary. Commercially-available CBD oils aren’t FDA regulated and they are often mislabeled. These products may contain heavy metals or other contaminants that could have negative health consequences.

If you have talked to your medical team and want to try medical cannabis to treat your seizures, Duber Medical can help you get approved for your card. Make an appointment today. 


Author: Gabrielle Dion Visca

Gabrielle has been writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries for more than 20 years. She’s held positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop. She currently writes articles about medical marijuana for Duber Medical, and is the founder of the Ohio cannabis journalism non-profit, MedicateOH.

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