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CBD for Epilepsy and Seizures [Exploring the Science]

CBD for Epilepsy – What Can It Do?

Imagine living your life knowing that a debilitating seizure is right around the corner. It is a reality for millions of people around the world. Seizures are a significant aspect of living with epilepsy, and the condition is more prevalent than most realize. There are growing calls for permitting the use of CBD for epilepsy. The FDA has listened, but only to the benefit of a Big Pharma company.

According to the CDC, approximately 3.4 million people are living with epilepsy in the United States. And, around 470,000 of them are children. Globally, an estimated 65 million people have the condition. There are many medications on the market designed to treat epilepsy. In recent times, however, there is a growing call to investigate the use of CBD oil for epilepsy.

Before we focus on CBD epilepsy, let’s find out more about the condition.

What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder in the brain caused by unusual nerve cell activity. It is the fourth most commonly diagnosed neurological condition, behind migraines, stroke, and Alzheimer’s. An epileptic seizure characterizes the condition. People living with epilepsy can have hundreds of seizures per week.

What Causes Epilepsy? What Are the Complications?

Those with the condition often find their lives negatively impacted. As a result, they are willing to try CBD oil for epilepsy, despite the lack of market regulation. An estimated 20% of children with the condition also have an intellectual disability. A much smaller percentage have a severe neurological disorder such as cerebral palsy. Having the disease increases your risk for specific complications:

  • Drowning: You are up to 19 times more likely to drown than average if you have epilepsy. If you have the condition, you could have a seizure while in a bathtub or swimming pool. It is possible to lose awareness, and you may find it impossible to move.
  • Automobile Accidents: A seizure can negatively impact your ability to drive a car. Most states don’t allow people with a history of seizures to drive. You can’t get a driver’s license in these states until you can prove you are seizure-free for a long time.
  • Emotional Health Problems: Up to one-third of individuals with the condition experience anxiety or depression. They are also 22% more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
  • Falls: Specific seizure types can hinder motor movements. As a result, you could lose control of a muscle function and fall.

 Researchers often feel as if they are hitting a brick wall when studying the condition. The causes of epilepsy are unknown in around 50% of cases. The most commonly known epilepsy causes are:

  • Stroke: Vascular conditions hinder the brain’s capacity to function normally.
  • Brain Tumor: A tumor can interrupt regular brain cell activity.
  • Brain Infection: An infection such as meningitis or AIDS could cause epilepsy.
  • Head Trauma: A head injury from a fall or accident could result in epilepsy.

Other potential causes include prenatal or genetic factors and neurodevelopmental disorders.

What Are the Symptoms of Epilepsy?

The symptoms depend on the type of seizure, and parts of the brain affected. However, common issues include:

  • Repetitive movements
  • Uncontrollable movements like jerking
  • A loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • A staring spell

There is a wide range of risk factors. For example, you are more likely to develop epilepsy in early childhood or when aged 55+. It is also a difficult condition to diagnose, as it requires a multitude of tests. These include an EEG, blood tests, CT Scan, MRI, or PET Scan. In most cases, the goal is to analyze your brain in detail.

What Are the Different Types of Epilepsy?

The disease affects people in a variety of ways. In 2017, the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) determined that there are three distinct types of epilepsy.

1 – Focal Onset

An estimated 60% of epileptic seizures are focal seizures. They begin in neuronal networks but are restricted to a part of a single cerebral hemisphere. The duration of this seizure type is 1-2 minutes. In many cases, the symptoms are so mild that you can perform basic tasks. You may experience the following:

  • Motor and sensory abnormalities. You may even get a sense of déjà vu.
  • Sudden feelings of anger, joy, sadness, or nausea.
  • Repetitive blinking, chewing, twitching, and swallowing.
  • A feeling that you are about to have a seizure.

2 – Generalized Seizures

These seizures begin in bilateral distributed neuronal networks. They sometimes start as a focal onset seizure, before escalating to a generalized one. This type of seizure affects up to 30% of people living with epilepsy. They are more severe than focal onset seizures. You may fall, lose consciousness, or suffer from severe muscle contractions.

You can place these seizures into one of five subcategories:

  • Clonic: Includes repetitive jerking movements that affect both sides of the body.
  • Tonic: Stiffening muscles in the legs, arms, and back.
  • Atonic: A loss of muscle tone and definition. These seizures often result in falls.
  • Myoclonic: Involves twitching or jerking movements in the legs, arms, and upper body.
  • Tonic-Clonic: Also known as grand mal seizures, they involve a variety of symptoms.

 3 – Non-Epileptic Seizures

Researchers are unable to identify the origin of these seizures. They occur via a sudden flexion or extension of the extremities. Up to 20% of people with epilepsy get this type of seizure. While they are like ‘typical’ episodes, they don’t have the normal electrical discharge in the brain.

Epilepsy Treatment – What Is on Offer?

Patients are starting to lean towards CBD for epilepsy. However, they often try a variety of treatments first. Estimates vary but suggest that up to 70% of people living with the condition get better with treatment.

At present, there are more than 20 anti-seizure epilepsy medications on the market. In the best-case scenario, you may only need to use such drugs for 2-3 years. Approximately 40% of epilepsy patients continue to suffer from seizures despite using antiepileptic medicine. Adverse side effects from these drugs include:

  • Slurring of speech
  • Unsteadiness
  • Sedation
  • Swollen glands
  • Loss of appetite
  • Easy bruising
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Increased seizures

There is a suggestion that the ketogenic diet helps reduce seizures, especially in kids. Other options include epilepsy therapy, such as vagus nerve stimulation. There is also an epilepsy surgery to remove portions of the brain. Unsurprisingly, patients are not queuing up. That’s partly why CBD for epilepsy is fast emerging as a popular alternative.

CBD for Epilepsy

The primary goal of antiepileptic medication is to reduce the number of seizures endured by patients. An estimated 30% of cases are classified as ‘untreatable.’ Therefore, there are countless people prepared to try CBD oil for seizures. Far from being an exercise in ‘quackery,’ there is possible scientific evidence to support the use of cannabidiol.

All mammals have an endocannabinoid system (ECS). Its principal function is to ensure the body’s systems remain in balance (homeostasis). The ECS achieves this task with the help of naturally produced cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids. These are similar to compounds such as CBD and THC found in marijuana and hemp.

When released, the endocannabinoids trigger cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) throughout the body. If your body is a long way from homeostasis, perhaps it is not producing enough endocannabinoids. If so, it makes sense that cannabinoids would make a positive difference. In theory, CBD produces anticonvulsive effects via numerous molecular pathways. The compound intensifies GABA receptors and reduces NMDA receptor activity.

Even the FDA recognizes the potential of CBD oil for epilepsy. It has approved Epidiolex, a drug designed for the treatment of Dravet’s syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut. The primary ingredient is synthesized CBD. It is the only medication containing cannabidiol to receive FDA approval.

The answer to the question: “Is CBD Good for Epilepsy?” depends on who you ask. A growing number of people believe the answer is ‘yes.’

 CBD & Epilepsy – Charlotte’s Web

Epilepsy is probably the most researched condition concerning CBD’s potential efficacy. GW Pharmaceuticals was able to conduct clinical trials on Epidiolex. Here is a brief overview of the findings:

  • Researchers gave 689 people with either Dravet or Lennon-Gastaut syndrome Epidiolex.
  • 391 of them received it for more than a year.
  • In a separate trial, 161 with LGS and Dravet syndrome received the drug.
  • 109 of them received it for more than six months.
  • Every participant was also using another anti-seizure medication.
  • Only a small percentage of patients stopped using the drug due to adverse side effects.
  • The results were substantial enough to get FDA approval.

We can trace the popularity of CBD for epilepsy back to the case of Charlotte Figi. Born in 2006, she developed epilepsy at the age of three months. Soon, she was having 300 grand mal seizures each week. Doctors ultimately diagnosed her with Dravet Syndrome. Charlotte was unable to walk, talk, or eat. By the age of 5, her situation appeared hopeless as hospitals said there was nothing they could do to help.

In desperation, her parents decided to try a high-CBD, low-THC marijuana strain called R4. Her seizures immediately seized for a week. They knew the supply was running low but heard about the Stanley Brothers. After initial hesitation, they elected to try out a very high CBD strain.

The results were incredible. Soon, Charlotte’s seizures had reduced to 2-3 a month. They usually happen in her sleep. The Stanley’s renamed the strain Charlotte’s Web in her honor.

The Studies

Anecdotal evidence is fine, but we need more research into CBD and epilepsy. Fortunately, there is a considerable amount. A study by Chen J.W., published in The Annals of Pharmacotherapy in June 2019, is one of the most recent. The researchers looked at how CBD impacted patients with Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes.

They went through studies from 1946 to 2018! The conclusion was that Epidiolex significantly reduces seizures in patients aged 2+ with LGS or Dravet syndrome. The compound reduced key seizure frequencies by up to 23% compared to placebos. Side effects include diarrhea and lethargy.

A study by Silvestro S., published in the journal Molecules in April 2019, showed even more exciting results. The researchers reviewed a host of critical studies and clinical trials. In one of the studies, the use of CBD with valproate reduced seizures by 56% after six months. While the effects waned slightly, it was still a positive outcome. Patients endured 34% fewer seizures after 24 months.

There are several other studies of varying sizes from the last few decades. What is clear is that research into whether CBD helps epilepsy will continue at a rapid pace. There is a greater onus on it now that the FDA has approved a CBD product for treating the condition.

Final Thoughts on CBD Oil for Epilepsy

There is still a LOT to learn about CBD for epilepsy. However, research shows that CBD has been well-tolerated and effective in treating seizures associated with LGS and Dravet syndrome.

It is far from conclusive, but there is probably more evidence in favor of CBD oil for epilepsy than any other condition. Even so, the FDA has only approved a Big Pharma product. While CBD is not federally legal, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the growth of industrial hemp. As a result, we hope to see even more CBD products on the shelves.

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