In 2013, a documentary aired on American public television that has since proved to be one of the most influential of the decade. CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, had always held a public position that was against cannabis. He, like many others, believed the government would have evidence for saying that cannabis should be a Schedule I substance, along with other abusable drugs with no medical use.
That was until Gupta traveled the country speaking to patients for his 2013 documentary, “Weed.” What he discovered prompted him to publicly reverse his opinion on cannabis, and has been influential in legal changes surrounding medical cannabis across the country.
On his journey, Gupta met Charlotte Figi. Charlotte was 5 at the time and had Dravet Syndrome; an extreme form of epilepsy that was causing her to have hundreds of seizures a day. That was until her parents discovered - after extensive online research - the possibility that CBD, a naturally occurring chemical in cannabis, could help her.
The Figis worked together with a Colorado cannabis breeder to grow an experimental strain of cannabis for their daughter. The resulting strain is known as Charlotte’s Web. It was bred to contain high levels of CBD and almost no THC; the active ingredient in cannabis which gets you high.
The results of treating Charlotte’s Dravet Syndrome with CBD were incredible. Her seizures reduced to less than once a week and she began to be able to live a normal life. Charlotte’s story led to studies that discovered that CBD could help many people suffering from seizures, but still was not a miracle cure.
What are seizures?
Seizures are characterized by a change in the brain’s electrical activity. The human brain contains millions of nerve cells, known as neurons. These are connected in a vast network which works to convey electrical signals between neurons.
Communication between the brain’s neurons is controlled by chemicals called neurotransmitters. Excitatory neurotransmitters function by conveying electrical signals to the next neuron, while inhibitory neurotransmitters work to inhibit the transmission of electrical signals.
Seizures happen when there is an imbalance between the inhibitory and excitatory neuron circuits. They can happen to people of any age and can have several different causes, including head injuries, fever, and pre-existing conditions, like epilepsy.
There are many different types of seizures, with names such as grand mal, petit mal, absence seizures, focal seizures, tonic seizures, clonic seizures, etc. Seizures have a beginning, middle, and end, and often begin with an aura, a specific set of symptoms which may alert the sufferer to the onset of a seizure. Auras may be followed by the ictal phase, which frequently includes the most noticeable symptoms. Following the ictal phase, sufferers enter the postictal phase, which is the period of recovery which comes after a seizure.
Not all seizures cause any noticeable effects, but sometimes they cause worrying symptoms, for example, dizziness, loss of consciousness, déjà vu, hallucinations, sensory disturbances, changes in mood or behavior, anxiety, and jerking motions in the arms and legs.
If seizures occur frequently or are uncontrolled, they can cause serious damage to the body and brain which cause a host of long-term health problems. Somebody who has multiple seizures may be diagnosed with a condition known as epilepsy.
If you or somebody you care about is diagnosed with epilepsy, it can be very scary. Naturally, you’ll be curious about the available treatments.
What are the conventional treatments for seizures?
If you or a loved one are suffering with seizures, you may be anxious to find a treatment. The effects of living with seizures can be debilitating and dangerous. However, while the world of modern medicine is far from perfect, hope exists in a variety of forms, including:
- Surgical intervention
- Vagus Nerve Stimulation
- Responsive neurostimulation
- Ketogenic diet
- Pharmaceutical drugs
- Alternative treatments
It may take experimenting with a few or all of the available treatments before finding what works for you. Some combination of these treatments may be a part of a patient’s journey to find a happy balanced life with a seizure disorder.
Drugs for treating epilepsy are known as antiseizure, antiepileptic, or anticonvulsant drugs.
These drugs typically work by moderating the electrical activity in the brain in an attempt to restore the balance between inhibitory and excitatory brain circuits. They accomplish this by enhancing the effect of inhibitory neurotransmitters, or by reducing the release of excitatory neurotransmitters. Examples of antiseizure drugs include:
Not every drug will work for any given person diagnosed with a seizure disorder. Patients may have to try several different drugs before finding the drug, or combination of drugs, which works for them.
Can CBD help?
In recent years, there has been a great deal of interest in the use of cannabinoids like CBD in the treatment of epilepsy. The medicinal effects of cannabinoids typically derive from their interactions with cannabinoid receptors.
Cannabinoid receptors exist in various types of cells in the human body and are collectively known as the endocannabinoid system. The two main types of cannabinoid receptors are known as CB1 and CB2.
Recent research has shown that people who suffer from seizures may have alterations in the endocannabinoid system which contribute to their condition and that cannabinoids may be able to alter the functioning of the endocannabinoid system and so reduce the frequency and severity of seizures.
While CBD interacts very weakly with CB1 and CB2 receptors, in some patients it has demonstrated a powerful antiseizure effect. This may be as a result of interactions with other components of the endocannabinoid system or other receptor systems which are significant in patients with epilepsy.
An Israeli study from 2017 examined the effect of CBD on children with intractable - out of control - epilepsy, with very promising results. Nearly all of the children experienced some reduction in the frequency of seizures, while over half had a reduction in seizure frequency of greater than 50%. Improvements in behavior, alertness, communication, sleep, and movement were also observed, while adverse reactions were limited and non-serious.
The upshot of the research is that CBD may be a very promising treatment option for people suffering from seizures. CBD does, however, have the potential to interact with traditional anti-epilepsy medications, so it’s important to consult with your neurologist before starting treatment.
CBD treatment options
CBD is available in numerous forms. These range from pharmaceuticals preparations, such as Epidiolex, to full-plant extracts like CBD paste, CBD oil, or CBD edibles which you might find at your local cannabis dispensary.
Different preparations may be more suitable for some patients and, given the potential severity of seizure disorders like epilepsy, it’s important to find what works for you under the guidance of your medical team.
If you or a loved one are suffering from a seizure disorder that may benefit from CBD, it is definitely worth speaking to a doctor about options for CBD treatments for seizures. CBD has been shown to be very effective for a percentage of patients with these conditions. For the time being, it may not replace conventional seizure treatments, but CBD has been life-changing for patients that have had success with it. When trying any new treatment, always make sure to do all your research first, and speak with your doctor about what’s right for you. Explore our site to find out more information on CBD or leave us a comment below with any questions!