Although medical marijuana prescribed by doctors has provided relief for numerous conditions, its effects on patients with epilepsy are particularly eye opening and inspiring. While more research still needs to be done, there is some sound scientific evidence to support the hypothesis that marijuana can help with managing seizures. Here is a look at how this newly legal medical treatment is helping people with epilepsy take back their lives.
What makes marijuana medicinal?
There are two active ingredients in marijuana that show promise for their medicinal properties—tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC provides pain relief by binding to receptors in the brain responsible for transmitting pain signals. While CBD does the same, this chemical has also been shown to bind to other receptors besides those associated with pain and has protective, anti-inflammatory properties as well. Because of this, CBD is currently the main focus for researchers studying the effects of marijuana on epilepsy.
It’s also important to point out that CBD does not create the classic feeling of being high like THC does. This makes CBD extract a particularly attractive treatment option for young children and adults who are wary of marijuana’s psychoactive effects.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a condition marked by recurrent seizures that can range from short and mild to long and life threatening. These seizures are not caused by any underlying medical condition but rather develop because of abnormal, excess electrical activity in the brain.
When this unusual activity is limited to one brain region, it’s referred to as a focal (or partial) seizure. When this electrical activity takes place across the entire brain, it’s known as a generalized seizure.
Roughly three percent of the American population (about 3.4 million people) suffers from epilepsy, and it’s estimated that around one third of childhood deaths are a result of seizures.
When these statistics are coupled with the serious nature of the condition, it’s no surprise that patients across the country are turning to medical marijuana to help manage their symptoms. If the stakes are this high, no potential treatment should be considered far fetched. Luckily for them, marijuana and its active ingredients are increasingly seen as a viable and scientifically sound form of treatment.
>> Related Content: Marijuana for Glaucoma
How does marijuana help treat epilepsy?
Unfortunately, the exact mechanism for how marijuana impacts the brain with respect to epilepsy is still a bit of a mystery. This is largely due to the fact that, under federal law, marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 drug—which makes cultivation or possession of marijuana a crime. While researchers can legally obtain marijuana for study, it’s a process filled with roadblocks and plenty of hoops to jump through.
Despite these barriers, the observable effects of marijuana on epilepsy are much more well documented.
According to one recent study on the effects of CBD on patients with Dravet syndrome (a specific type of epilepsy), researchers observed the following results:
• 43 percent of patients had at least at a 50 percent reduction in their symptoms
• Average monthly seizures in patients dropped from 12.4 to 5.9
• 5 percent of patients became completely seizure free
While it’s clear that medical marijuana can absolutely have a positive impact on epilepsy patients, more research is desperately needed to pinpoint the exact reasons CBD is so effective in treating the condition. Without it, more effective, more personalized treatment options may never be discovered.
Is medical marijuana right for me?
Medical marijuana is increasingly becoming a realistic treatment option for epilepsy patients across the country. However, as with any medical intervention, it’s important to research the topic thoroughly and discuss it with your doctor.
But when you consider the potential cost and side effects of traditional epilepsy medication, medical marijuana is one option that definitely seems to have its advantages.