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An anti-seizure effect? CBD for epilepsy

18/08/2022 4 MIN. READ Sophie Klingler
18/08/2022 4 MIN. READ Sophie Klingler

Roughly five percent of us experience an epileptic seizure once in our lives. Seizures can be a product of a high fever or some kind of alcohol withdrawal. It’s unusual, however, to have another one once the illness that triggered the seizure in the first place subsides.

Unlike these so-called “occasional seizures”, the condition known as epilepsy is actually a chronic disease. It is estimated that 0.5 to 1 percent of the population in Germany is affected by the disease.

Roughly one-third of patients suffer from what is called therapy-resistant or pharmacoresistant epilepsy, which means that they experience repeated seizures despite taking medication specifically designed to prevent such attacks. Considering the major health and psycho-social impact of epilepsy, it’s understandable that many people are very interested in finding effective alternative therapies. Every once in a while, the virtues of CBD are extolled in this context.

However, the CBD dosages involved in a potential treatment of epilepsy would require dosages that far exceed standard recommendations. In other words, you should never use CBD to treat epilepsy without first consulting a medical doctor. We set out to determine whether there’s any actual evidence showing that CBD can have a potential effect.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy refers to a short-term functional disorder of the brain. During an epileptic seizure, nerve cells in the brain discharge synchronously.

The frequency and severity of seizures can vary greatly, which means that there’s no such thing as “one” type of epilepsy.

Symptoms can range from a mild tingling or twitching to brief pauses in a person’s consciousness, which are called “absences”, all the way to uncontrolled seizures that affect the entire body and involve the patient losing consciousness entirely.

Who is affected by epilepsy and what are the consequences?

In general, an individual can experience epilepsy for the first time at any age. However, new cases of epilepsy are particularly common in children and older people.

Depending on the severity of the epilepsy, it may or may not have a serious impact on an individual’s life. The person might have to deal with limitations regarding their general physical health, but also in terms of their psycho-social well-being.

For example, people who suffer from epilepsy are not allowed to swim unsupervised; they are only permitted to drive a car under certain conditions and after providing proof that they are seizure-free; and they are advised to drink alcohol only in very limited quantities. Epileptics also often face being stigmatised because of their seizures.

In addition to treatment-resistant cases, the potential side-effects caused by anti-epileptic medication are another problem.

Especially when it comes to children, there is a tremendous need to seek out and find other treatment options. This is due to the fact that if a child suffers from severe epilepsy that is resistant to treatment, it can sometimes result in significant delays in their cognitive, behavioural and motor development.

The history of using cannabis to treat epilepsy & “WEED”

A recent study claimed that cannabis was already being used to treat epilepsy 4,000 years ago . According to the study, cannabis was used in ancient Mesopotamia to treat the disease, which was described at the time as the “hand of the spirit”.

More closer to our present day, a 2013 CNN documentary called “WEED” spotlighted the plight of a young epileptic named Charlotte Figi who experienced up to 50 seizures a day and did not respond to medication. Thanks to cannabidiol , the number of seizures she suffered was reduced to 2 to 3 per month.

In fact, the popular cannabis brand known as ”Charlotte’s Web” was even named after her: It contains an above-average amount of CBD and very little THC.

But was this success story just a one-time stroke of luck or is there scientific evidence to back the efficacy of CBD in treating epilepsy?

The use of CBD from cannabis to treat epilepsy

Researchers occasionally detected an increased level of neuro-inflammation in patients with epilepsy, that is, they observed inflammatory processes in the nerve tissue before and after a seizure. In a similar vein, there is evidence that CBD - thanks to its cannabinoid properties - might offer a way of treating diseases associated with neuro-inflammation.

The relevant scientific studies on the subject focus mostly on the Dravet Syndrome and Lennox Gastaut Syndrome, two forms of epilepsy that are difficult to treat and begin in childhood.

For example, a placebo-controlled, double-blind study examined for one full month the effects of cannabidiol in 120 children and young adults who suffer from Dravet Syndrome and experience treatment-resistent seizures.

Whereas the average number of seizures in the individuals who took CBD in addition to their medication was reduced from 12.4 to 5.9 per month, the effect was significantly smaller when they combined their medication with a placebo. Five percent of the patients in the CBD group even became seizure-free, an effect that was not observed in any of the patients in the control group.

In another study, researchers examined 171 patients who had been diagnosed with Lennox Gastaut Syndrome. Here, too, the subjects took antiepileptic medication alongside CBD, but in this case they reduced the dose by a half compared to what they had been taking before the study. Within four weeks, the researchers observed an average reduction of 44 percent reduction in seizures owing to the use of cannabidiol.

However, in both studies, the participants were given 20 milligrams each of CBD per kilogramme of body weight per day. In other words, there is no way to achieve comparable results with standard dosages, which is why we strongly advise against the unsupervised use of CBD to treat epilepsy. We should also mention that CBD caused more frequent side effects, such as diarrhoea or vomiting, in both studies.

CBD for epilepsy: What we know to date

  • Using CBD as a potential treatment for epilepsy requires dosages that far exceed standard recommendations many times over. You should therefore always seek out the advice of a medical doctor before even thinking of taking CBD for epilepsy.
  • Epilepsy can have both physical and mental-health-related effects.
  • Roughly 30 percent of patients do not respond to anti-epileptic drugs.
  • Users regularly report noticing positive effects of CBD for epilepsy.
  • Studies are also providing preliminary indications suggesting that CBD may be effective for certain forms of epilepsy.
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