CBD for Epilepsy and Seizures [Exploring the Science]
Epilepsy: One of the worst-nightmare diagnoses for a parent to hear of their child.
Characterized by frequent seizures, epilepsy sufferers go through life not knowing when they’re going to suffer a seizure.
Commonly developed while still a young child, and not for reasons that are well-understood, epilepsy causes patients to suffer those infamous seizures triggered by a myriad of different stimuli – some people can’t tolerate high heat or light without a seizure, whereas for others its specific tastes or smells. Regardless of the cause of the condition or the trigger for the seizure, epilepsy is startlingly common, with one in 26 people being diagnosed with the neurological disorder over their lifetime.
There is a variety of medications that doctors hope will help treat epilepsy, but few cures exist, and even then they only work for specific types of epilepsy.
CBD oil has been demonstrated to have a remarkable effect on epilepsy sufferers, even going so far as stopping their seizures entirely.
What is it about CBD that helps treat epilepsy, and could we be using it more?
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological brain disorder caused by nerve cell activity that shouldn’t be happening.
In the same way that cancer is simply a cell that seems to have forgotten to die, epilepsy is neural cell activity when there shouldn’t be. This causes the brain to, in a sense, malfunction, as a variety of electrical signals and impulses are generated in the brain due to unusual activity. This behaviour is most commonly referred to as seizures and can lead to serious injury or death.
Oddly enough, it’s not necessarily the seizures that can kill you – except in the few cases wherein your ability to breathe is impaired due to the seizure – it’s usually due to the physical movements your body makes when seizing; think of that stereotypical image of an epilepsy sufferer violently convulsing on the ground.
One of the worst parts of epilepsy, however, is the mental and cognitive impairments it can leave behind. Due to frequently seizing, certain brain functions can become damaged, causing you to suffer neurological damage or just generally undergo mental impairment.
All in all, epilepsy is absolutely terrible.
What can we do about it?
How is Epilepsy Commonly Treated?
Epilepsy is a rare condition in that it is usually caused as a result of some sort of previous incident, such as infection or head injury, or due to a malignant genome. This means there are a variety of ways to treat it depending on the type of specific epilepsy you might have.
More generally, there are a variety of anti-epileptic medications available, commonly known as AEDs, that work as a preventative drug to try and stop seizures from happening. Instead of being able to treat the condition, AEDs typically only work on trying to control the seizures. There are over 20 different types of AEDs available, all targeting different types of epilepsy with different side effects and chemical components.
Alongside AEDs, some cases of epilepsy can be dealt with through surgery, by a removal of small portions of the brain that cause seizures. This is obviously not often possible due to the fact that we generally need our brains to live. Epilepsy has in fact gained some prominence in the last decade as being a condition almost entirely treatable through CBD. Thanks to a landmark example, CBD has been recognized as being able to help countless sufferers of epilepsy.
So, who was this landmark case?
Charlotte’s Web and “Hippie’s Disappointment”
Charlotte Figi, a seemingly regular girl born to a regular family, was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, one of the most serious forms of epilepsy. Whilst some forms of epilepsy only cause seizures a few times a month, Charlotte Figi was suffering upwards of 300 full blown seizures every month.
This took a toll not just on Charlotte’s health, but on the livelihood of her parents as well. No medications seemed to work effectively, and the hodge-podge mix of drugs she was on was affecting her cognitive development. However, when she was 5-years-old and facing the risk of death every day from her seizures, her parents decided to fight and try CBD. Thanks to the Stanley brothers, one of the state of Colorado’s largest marijuana growers that were making a high CBD, low THC strain, the Figi family were able to try something new.
Unsurprisingly, it worked. Thanks to a dose of CBD oil twice a day in her food, Charlotte’s seizures went from 300 a month to only 2-3 times a month, and mostly in her sleep.
This story was made famous thanks to a 2013 focus story conducted by CNN, leading to even more cannabis legalisation in other states of the US. Thanks to Charlotte Figi and that story, cannabis was fully legalised to treat Dravet Syndrome everywhere in the USA.
What makes the story even more sweet? The strain of cannabis they bred which consists of extremely high CBD… They named it Charlotte’s Web.
However, how did CBD help Charlotte? What is it about CBD that can help those with epilepsy?
CBD Oil & Epilepsy
CBD is the non-psychoactive component of cannabis sativa. CBD acts, in a way, as a counterpoint to THC, the psychoactive component, by working to reduce the malignant side effects of THC when cannabis is imbibed. However, in recent years, scientists have been extracting CBD as a pure oil, allowing people to take CBD oil as a form of treatment.
Thanks to its gradual acceptance by governments, in part because of experimentation and exploration conducted by pioneers like the Stanley brothers and Charlotte Figi, we now know more about CBD than ever. How CBD works with epilepsy exactly is, however, a bit of a mystery.
We know that CBD affects the Endocannabinoid System, the system that exists throughout the body and helps in regulating the process in which new cells are generated, as well as aiding overall nervous system health. By interacting with the CB1 and CB2 receptors within that system, CBD is able to encourage the body to heal more quickly.
However, CBD also has a magnificent effect on people suffering from epilepsy; we just don’t really know why. There is a frequent fear when discussing medicine that, if we do not how it works, we shouldn’t be using it. However, numerous studies have been conducted as to the effects of CBD on epilepsy sufferers, all with extremely promising results.
For example, one study*, conducted by Tzadok et al. in the “Seizure” publication, concluded through the study of five Israeli pediatric epilepsy clinics that treated children and adolescents with severe, intractable epilepsy, that CBD had a remarkable effect on their frequency of seizures.
With only minor side effects experienced by 7% of the participants, researchers concluded that CBD was capable of helping patients suffering from intractable epilepsy.
Another study*, conducted by Emilio Perucca for the Journal of Epilepsy Research, claimed to have found hard evidence of the effectiveness of CBD in the treatment of epilepsy.
Perucca found, through the study of numerous CBD-imbibing epilepsy patients, that CBD provided a marked improvement in their conditions, especially when paired with the common anti-seizure medication Clobazam. Whether it was the reaction CBD had with Clobazam, or whether it was CBD itself having the remarkable effect, is not entirely clear, but it is certain that CBD has the ability to help those with epilepsy.
This was further studied and concluded in a study published in Epilepsia by Geffrey et al.*, which found that CBD and Clobazam worked extremely well when taken together, and theorized that it was because both drugs were metabolized in the same cytochrome P450 pathway, thus seemingly having an effect one another.
More and more studies are being published every year showcasing CBD’s ability to positively affect the endocannabinoid system and help those with epilepsy suffer fewer seizures.
Although we still don’t know the exact mechanics of how and why CBD helps those with epilepsy, we at least know that it works, and it works extremely well.
Final Thoughts on CBD for Epilespy
In recent years, the amount of interest in CBD has surged, in part due to the prevalence and seemingly miraculous nature of such cases as Charlotte Figi. This has lit a fire under the medical community, who have suddenly realized the health benefits within CBD oil, allowing more and more people to utilize it.
Even though the exact, scientific ways that CBD interacts with epilepsy and other anti-seizure medications still eludes us, it doesn’t change the fact that CBD oil works.
When something works so well on so many people, all with so few – and even then minor – side effects, you can’t really argue with results.
More studies will be conducted, more conclusions reached, and even more knowledge gained as to the exact mechanics of CBD oil and epilepsy, but one thing is definite: CBD oil can help those with epilepsy, reducing the number of seizures and improving quality of life.
All that remains to do is even more research!