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CBD for Epilepsy and Seizures – What you need to know

4 mins read

Of all the things we could use CBD oil to treat, Epilepsy and its seizures seem to be one of the most well-researched. Epileptic seizures also lay claim to the only FDA-approved application of CBD oil to date, the hemp-derived CBD drug, Epidiolex. Our CBD101 guide looks at the established research and treatment in this area to try to answer the question, can we use CBD for epilepsy treatment?

 

A Word about Epilepsy

The term Epilepsy covers a group of neurological disorders characterized by seizures. The cause of these seizures is understood to come from unusual or excessive neuron activity in the brain. The epileptic seizures and episodes that result usually vary from brief, almost undetectable episodes to extended periods of violent shaking from this heightened brain activity. These seizures tend to recur and, although we understand some of the mechanisms of Epilepsy, the reason for the recurrence of seizures is not as well understood. The good news is that in around 70% of the cases, these seizures are manageable with inexpensive anti-seizure medication. Epidiolex, the famous FDA-approved CBD treatment for Epilepsy, is but one such medication. On a positive note, not every case of Epilepsy is chronic or lifelong. Some individuals can improve and manage their Epilepsy to such an extent that treatment is often no longer required.

 

The History of CBD for Epilepsy

Although modern research into the use of CBD and THC in the treatment of Epilepsy is relatively new, famous historical cases1 exist, with one recorded case from 1881 provides an interesting anecdote to one of the first medical treatments of Epilepsy with cannabis. Dr. W. R. Gowers reports that a patient “John K” first started epilepsy treatment with him in 1868 after having experienced fits for the preceding 25 years. After the patient erratically started and stopped the treatment, Gowers tried an extract of Cannabis Indica, or “Indian Hemp” as it was known at the time. The good doctor reports that the patient’s fits stopped immediately and reports “a wonderful change” in him. However, the fits remained at bay for around six months, when the patient discontinued treatment, at which time the fits returned but were stopped again by Indian Hemp extract. 

 

The FDA and using CBD for Epilepsy

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first plant-based drug derived from Cannabis in June 2018. The drug, Epidiolex, is an oral medication approved for treating seizures associated with two specific epilepsy syndromes, Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, for people who are two years of age or older.

 

The drug Epidolex was tested in double-blind clinical trials where part of the test subject group is given a placebo, and the other part of the group is given the actual drug. The study is called a “double-blind study” because none of the test subjects are aware if they are receiving a placebo or the actual drug and, none of the researchers are aware if they are administering a placebo or the actual drug. This type of study is considered to be an accurate reflection of how the drug performs, as it minimizes the placebo effect.

 

The results of the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that using this kind of CBD for Epilepsy (in tandem with normal epilepsy medication) resulted in a reduction in drop seizures in Lennox–Gastaut Syndrome test subjects, of approximately 40% in a group given 20mg of the drug and 37% in a group given 10mg of the drug. Although some of the usual CBD side effects were reported–dizziness, diarrhea, sleepiness, and decreased appetite the trial was considered a great success.

 

 A second study from 2017 focused on Dravet syndrome, specifically for people who experienced drug-resistant seizures. They found that the frequency of seizures was reduced significantly with the use of CBD for Epilepsy, but there was no statistically significant reduction in non-convulsive seizures. Five percent of these participants reported being seizure-free, but adverse events were also reported in this study, following the usual pattern of sleepiness, diarrhea, and fatigue.

 

One concerning finding was that when using CBD for Epilepsy, certain drug-to-drug interactions could be observed. Although more research is needed into this area, it is clear from these studies that a conflict may exist between valproic acid (a commonly used anti-seizure medicine) and cannabidiol (CBD). This drug-to-drug interaction seems to affect the liver function of test subjects directly and remains a cause for concern as it may put some people at risk. Furthermore, as the drug clobazam is metabolized, it seems to interact with CBD in some subjects, typically resulting in tiredness and fatigue.

 

The future for CBD and Epilepsy looks extremely hopeful with an FDA-approved drug already in the bag; researchers seem to have broadly mapped out an excellent area of application and study of CBD and Epilepsy. As a result, one imagines that more and better medications derived from the cannabis plant will soon be available for epileptic seizures in the future. 

 

Disclaimer

The information contained in this post is for general information purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Please consult your healthcare practitioner to make sure that CBD oil is the right choice for you.

 

Further reading:

  1. Gowers, W.R. (1881). Epilepsy and other convulsive disorders, Churchill: London.

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