Epilepsy is a serious and stressful condition, especially when it occurs in childhood. Many types of epilepsy can be treated with medication, but some can’t. Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome are two severe and incurable types of childhood epilepsy that can cause developmental delays, growth problems, intellectual impairment, and even death. These conditions are stressful for the whole family and can lower a child’s quality of life significantly.
For families with children who suffer from epilepsy that’s hard to treat, cannabidiol – a compound found in the cannabis plant – might provide some much-needed hope. Cannabidiol, also called CBD, has not been evaluated by the FDA as an epilepsy treatment. However, the studies that have been conducted so far seem to indicate that this compound can lessen or even prevent seizures, and many people are turning to CBD in the form of hemp oil as a treatment for epilepsy that doesn’t respond to anything else.
What Is Cannabidiol?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a compound found in the cannabis plant. CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it produces no mind-altering side effects, and it appears to have various beneficial effects on the body. It’s not necessary to smoke cannabis to get the benefits of CBD. Instead, the CBD can be distilled into a hemp oil extract for medicinal use.
Is CBD an Effective Epilepsy Treatment?
Based on early investigations and many people’s personal experience, there is some evidence that cannabidiol has anticonvulsant properties. This could be good news for people who suffer from severe or untreatable forms of epilepsy.
One of the biggest studies on CBD and epilepsy to date, headed by Dr. Orrin Dravinsky of the New York University Langone Medical Center, produced mixed but hopeful results. The participants in the study were given Epidiolex, a hemp oil extract containing 99% CBD, for 12 weeks. On average, the patients saw a 45% reduction in their seizures, and patients with Dravet syndrome saw even better results – their seizures were reduced by 63%. After 12 weeks, 9% of all participants and 13% of participants with Dravet syndrome were completely seizure-free.
The CBD didn’t work for everyone, though. 12% of patients withdrew from the study because the hemp oil had no effect, positive or negative, on their seizures. 10% of patients reported non-life-threatening adverse side effects like diarrhea, vomiting, and fatigue. 5% of patients reported serious adverse side effects that were related to the CBD treatment, including altered liver enzymes, weight loss, and even increases in the severity and frequency of their seizures. Some of these patients were taking other medications as well, and it isn’t yet known whether these side effects were caused by interactions between these medications and the hemp oil.
So far, the FDA has not evaluated the effectiveness and safety of CBD-rich hemp oil or other cannabis-derived products in treating epilepsy, and they urge people to be wary of using treatments that haven’t been tested and approved. However, people who have decided to use CBD as an epilepsy treatment often tell a different story based on their personal experience. A survey conducted by the journal Epilepsia in 2014 found that patients who have used CBD to treat epilepsy, as well as their families, are far more likely to endorse its use than medical professionals are.
What’s Next for Cannabidiol Researchers?
More research needs to be done on cannabidiol to determine how it should best be used to treat epilepsy. However, cannabis is often difficult for researchers to obtain because it remains illegal in many areas. Cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug by the DEA, meaning the government does not consider it to have any medical use.
With the growing acceptance of medical cannabis and many states’ push to legalize cannabis entirely, it may become easier for medical researchers to investigate cannabidiol more fully in the future. Public demand for more information and easier access to CBD and hemp oil treatments is high, and a number of epilepsy research groups, such as the Epilepsy Foundation and CURE, also support further research on CBD and cannabinoids as epilepsy treatments.
Though the evidence is still inconclusive, the research that has been done so far seems to indicate that hemp oil and other cannabidiol treatments have the potential to treat epilepsy and lend peace of mind to the families of children with conditions like Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. As researchers investigate CBD further, more guidelines will be established for its safety and recommended use.