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Cannabidiol (CBD) and the Impact on Epilepsy

By Dan Putnam September 03, 2016 0 comments

The sight of your child having his or her first epileptic seizure was perhaps a frightening and helpless time for you and your family. Subsequently, traditional treatments fail and desperation sets in to find a medical solution to treat your child’s epilepsy. Today, cannabidiol (CBD), the primary non-psychoactive compound in cannabis, is hailed as the new promise in treating children suffering from uncontrollable seizures. However, the discussions around using a cannabis strain rich in CBD to remedy epilepsy are complex, with different perspectives in support or opposition of its usage. Nonetheless, the issue is an evolving one that is giving some parents relief and others hope.

CBD Rich Oils

More than 14 U.S. states, including Kentucky, Oklahoma, Virginia, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Idaho, among others, have passed legislation permitting the use of low-THC, CBD rich marijuana oil for limited use in the treatment of epilepsy. The success story of a Colorado girl, Charlotte Figi, who suffered from frequent bouts of seizures associated with Dravet Syndrome (myoclonic epilepsy of infancy), and was treated with a CBD-rich cannabis oil, which drastically reduced  the frequency of her seizures, unlike traditional treatments that had failed, is one of the best cases for CBD advocacy.  This case undoubtedly led to heightened interest in the efficacy of CBD in the treatment of epileptic seizures.

While a specific strain of marijuana can be refined to produce CBD rich oil, cannabis related products such as hemp has become an experimental alternative. Hemp has the active ingredient CBD, as high as 5%, but it lacks FDA regulations and its ingredients are mainly used for industrial purposes. Proponents argue that hemp oil treatment does not give users a high because hemp has significantly low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as low as 0.3%. Despite strict hemp regulations, in January of 2016, Kansas’ Senate Bill 147 passed the hemp oil provision, permitting the use of hemp oil treatment in seizure disorders. Utah passed a similar law in 2014 allowing hemp oil for limited medical use. CBD rich hemp oil is a growing alternative for those residing in non medical marijuana states.

Hurdles and Success

The hurdle facing the usage of cannabidiol-enriched cannabis in treating epilepsy is the lack of concrete evidence to support its safety and efficacy. Anecdotal reports, limited clinical survey, uncontrolled randomized clinical trials, and a lack of retrospective studies, are all reasons for opposition to CBD as an epilepsy treatment. The lack of clinical evaluation of CBD use in people with epilepsy is partly a result of strict FDA and DEA restrictions on marijuana and its complex chemistry. There have been reports of seizure control that ranges from great to minor. A 2013 survey presented to parents explored the treatment of cannabidiol-enriched cannabis in children with treatment-resistant epilepsy, and  the results were largely positive; 84% of parents reported reduced frequency in their child’s seizure, with 11% reporting complete seizure freedom, 42% reported more than 80%  less seizures, and another 32% expressed 25-60% reduction in their child’s  seizures. Source (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24237632) Improvements in sleep, mood, and alertness were also reported in most children, while drowsiness and fatigue were the highlighted side effects.

Future and Epilepsy Research

The truth is that there needs to be significantly more research into CBD as a treatment for epilepsy, and that can be fully achieved when cannabis is no longer a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law. Epilepsy research demands vigorous action in order to save and improve the lives of countless children. Some ground has been made with the drug Epidiolex by GW Pharmaceuticals, a liquid form of purified cannabidiol (99%) that is strictly overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration because of its Schedule 1 status. Currently, Insys Therapeutics, Inc is in the research and development stage of a cannabidiol product that is geared towards treating severe pediatric epilepsies. NYU Epilepsy Center is also currently conducting research into cannabidiol and epilepsy.

Despite limited studies of CBD epileptic treatments, some parents are taking a gamble, while others remain hopeful that CBD will one day be the solution to their child’s epilepsy. Inconclusive studies of CBD in epilepsy create a huge hurdle causing opponents to express fear of the long-term effects of CBD-rich marijuana extracts in treating children with epilepsy. Be that as it may, the success stories cannot be ignored; CBD rich treatments are making a difference for some families. Loosening federal laws on marijuana and hemp, as well as approving research into both as epilepsy treatment would seem to be the right path moving forward.


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