Epilepsy and Cannabis Treatment: A Scientific Review

cannabis epilepsy

Using cannabis for the treatment of epilepsy has become one one of the most popularized uses of medical marijuana. In this article, we review the scientific literature to get to the truth behind whether or not cannabis is a viable treatment method for epilepsy — one of the most prevalent disorders in the world.

Does Cannabis Actually Help With Epilepsy Seizures?

There’s a lot of hype about what cannabis can and cannot cure. Are you not sure if cannabis actually helps with epilepsy and seizures? Check out this informative post below to see what the current scientific literature says about treating epilepsy with cannabis.

Epilepsy is a type of seizure disorder caused by excessive and abnormal nerve cell activity in the brain. Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder and can cause a wide variety of seizures.

Other symptoms include fainting, fatigue, muscle spasms or contractions, pins and needles, amnesia, anxiety, depression, sleepiness, temporary paralysis, and loss of consciousness. About 3,000,000 Americans are currently diagnosed with epilepsy.

About 1 in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy at some point in their life.

One aspect that makes epilepsy rather scary is that the seizures can occur without being provoked. This means that a person could be driving a car and instantly have a seizure, presenting a very dangerous scenario.

epilepsy eeg infographic
Over the past few decades, most of the medical and scientific opinions have been that cannabis is not a viable treatment option. As a Schedule 1 drug, the federal government claims that cannabis has absolutely no medicinal properties.

However, public opinion is slowly starting to change. Even the Epilepsy Foundation has a page that advocates for the effectiveness of medical marijuana. Also, Scientific American has written an article that promotes research for treating epilepsy with cannabis.

About one third of epilepsy patients are not helped by conventional treatment options. Many medications also present themselves with unwanted side effects. Therefore, it is important to keep an open mind about potential treatment options.

Charlotte Figi’s Epilepsy And Cannabis Success Story

Perhaps you have heard the story of Charlotte Figi, who was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome. Constantly struggling with seizures, the family looked to medical cannabis when Charlotte was only five years old.

The parents and physicians agreed that she had a significant reduction in seizures after the use of cannabis. Today, we are left with the cannabis strain named Charlotte’s Web in her honor. CNN even featured her story in a documentary titled “Weed”.

Charlotte Figi is a model medical marijuana epilepsy patient
The brave little girl who inspired the world: Charlotte Figi

Many have suggested that cannabis is an effective treatment option for epilepsy. While most doctors would be unlikely to recommend marijuana for treating epilepsy, many patients or parents of patients have tried using cannabis with great success at reducing the number of seizures.

However, anecdotal stories do not rigorously prove the efficacy of cannabis for treating seizures. What is needed is proper research and double-blind clinical trials.

Reviewing Clinical Trials and Studies of Cannabis and Epilepsy

Surprisingly, much research was done in the 1970’s to look at the effects of cannabis as an anticonvulsant, or anti-seizure medication, in rats. One Argentinian study found that Cannabidiol (CBD) was more active than two well-known antiepileptic options. (Ref. 1)

Another study in 1973 found that CBD, THC, and CBN are all effective anticonvulsants, while CBN is a little less effective than the other two cannabinoids. (Ref. 2)

Another study found that THC was comparable to three other anticonvulsants when looking at seizures induced in mice. (Ref. 3) Furthermore, CBD and cannabis extracts protect mice and rats against convulsive agents. (Refs. 4-5)

CBD and THC were compared to two typical treatment options in seizure-induced rats, and CBD was found to be the most effective. (Ref. 6) Preliminary animal models suggest that marijuana has anticonvulsive properties. (Ref. 7) Ultimately, studies need to be done with humans, not only than rats.

Research suggests that cannabinoids can be equally if not more effective than typical antieleptic medication.

By 1992, a study found that marijuana is protective against new onset seizures. (Ref. 8) The study points out that marijuana was known for its anticonvulsant properties in the fifteenth century, yet it is still federally classified as a schedule 1 drug.

In 2003, a rat model found that THC completely abolished spontaneous epileptic seizures. (Ref. 9) Another rat model study found that isolated CBD also decreases seizure activity. (Ref. 10)

epilepsy seizures are reduced by cannabis
THC increased the amount of stimuli that was necessary to induce a hippocampal seizure. Thus, THC makes it harder to have a seizure. Graph from Ref. 1.

In the same year, a survey of epilepsy patients was taken to study the efficacy of cannabis. (Ref. 11) They found that 21% of the subjects had used marijuana within the past year, with the majority stating that it was an effective option for therapy. This survey shows that while doctors still will not prescribe cannabis, a rather large percentage of patients have found a solution on their own.

In 2013, a survey was given to parents with children who had epilepsy and were interested in trying CBD-enriched cannabis. (Ref. 12) 16 out of 19 of the parents reported that their child’s seizure frequency reduced, with the majority stating that the rate decreased by 80% or more.

Even with such a success rate, another study points out that there is not enough clinical data in humans to justify using cannabis as a treatment option. (Ref. 13) Another review points out that the mechanism for how CBD works for treating epilepsy also remains unclear. (Ref. 14)

The review correctly points out that CBD interacts with THC in a synergistic manner, but they should also note that CBD still binds to the CB2 receptors in the absence of THC. If patients are weary of the negative effects associated with THC, perhaps pure CBD extracts would be a good treatment option.

Marijuana with high CBD content seems to be the most effective for treating seizures and epilepsy.

Interestingly enough, researchers to this day still compare cannabis to cocaine and other illicit drugs. A group interviewed 310 epilepsy subjects about their marijuana and drug use.

The group wanted to understand the effects of these drugs on the disease. They conclude by stating that frequent usage of other drugs makes epilepsy worse, while cannabis has no effect. (Ref. 15)

We see that this is the first survey that actually had a statistically significant number of participants. Unfortunately, due to the negative stigma of cannabis, the researchers approached the wrong questions. Instead, they should have studied the efficacy of cannabis for treating epilepsy, rather than trying to understand if it has adverse effects and comparing it to other illicit drugs.

cannabis epilepsy treatment RSO
Risk Simpson Oil (RSO), an extremely potent cannabis extract, has proven highly effective in epilepsy treatment.

A 2014 summary states that we still lack the data of a double-blind study to truly know the efficacy of cannabis. (Ref. 16) Fortunately, the review claims that controlled studies are being planned.

A review article admits that much is still unknown about how cannabis is effective. (Ref. 17) They argue that pharmaceutical grade compounds may be less effective as whole plant extractions. Other reviews also point out that more controlled clinical trials are needed. (Ref. 18)

A study points out that many patients are given high doses of antiepileptic drugs, which have many adverse side effects. (Ref. 19) Furthermore, no long term studies are done to learn if they will present any adverse effects. CBD or whole plant extraction seems to be a great option for medication. (Ref. 20)

As of this year, a new study has ran 12 week clinical trials with cannabidiol involving 214 patients. Finally, we find a study that has a significant number of patients that actually involves humans instead of rats. The study found that CBD helped reduce the number of monthly seizures by 37%. (Ref. 21)

Conclusions

After reviewing all of this literature, we find that there is significant evidence from animal model data that suggests that cannabis has anticonvulsant properties. Furthermore, numerous surveys and anecdotal accounts have been reported which promote the efficacy of cannabis.

Epilepsy patients have been looking for seizure relief from marijuana for centuries, yet the scientific community does not have enough double-blind clinical trials to prove that cannabis is effective for treating epilepsy in humans. The lack of scientific research does not stop patients from treating epilepsy with cannabis.

As of 2016, a study has found evidence that CBD helps reduce seizures in humans. As time goes on and more studies are performed, it seems inevitable that people around the world will start to accept cannabis for its medicinal properties.

At WoahStork, we want to empower the cannabis consumer with as much knowledge as possible, so you can make an informed decision about what cannabis products are right for your needs. We suggest that patients looking for medical marijuana should focus on high CBD strains, as these contain a well-rounded combination of THC and CBD.

Not sure where to find high CBD strains? Let WoahStork’s Strain Genie help you out. By simply searching through our activity group Medicate, you can find high CBD strains that are located in dispensaries nearby. Also, many of our dispensaries offer high CBD edibles and tinctures, which may provide the extended relief that you are looking for.

Epilepsy References