Does cannabis help seizures?
CBD and Epilepsy
What is Epilepsy?
- Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder and affects people of all ages.
- Epilepsy means the same thing as “seizure disorders.”
- Epilepsy is characterized by unpredictable seizures and can cause other health problems.
- Epilepsy is a spectrum condition with a wide range of seizure types and control varying from person-to-person.
- Public misunderstandings of epilepsy cause challenges that are often worse than the seizures.
- The human brain is the source of human epilepsy.
- Epilepsy is a chronic disorder, the hallmark of which is recurrent, unprovoked seizures. A person is diagnosed with epilepsy if they have two unprovoked seizures (or one unprovoked seizure with the likelihood of more) that were not caused by some known and reversible medical condition like alcohol withdrawal or extremely low blood sugar.
- The seizures in epilepsy may be related to a brain injury or a family tendency, but often the cause is completely unknown. The word “epilepsy” does not indicate anything about the cause of the person’s seizures or their severity.
- Many people with epilepsy have more than one type of seizure and may have other symptoms of neurological problems as well. Sometimes EEG (electroencephalogram) testing, clinical history, family history, and outlook are similar among a group of people with epilepsy. In these situations, their condition can be defined as a specific epilepsy syndrome.
- Essentially, anything the brain can do, it can do in the form of a seizure.
- Although the symptoms of a seizure may affect any part of the body, the electrical events that produce the symptoms occur in the brain. The location of that event, how it spreads, how much of the brain is affected, and how long it lasts all have profound effects. These factors determine the character of a seizure and its impact on the individual.
Having seizures and epilepsy can affect one’s safety, relationships, work, driving, and so much more. Public perception and treatment of people with epilepsy are often bigger problems than actual seizures.
Do you know what to do when someone has a seizure?
- You can’t swallow your tongue during a seizure. It’s physically impossible.
- You should NEVER force something into the mouth of someone having a seizure. Absolutely not! Forcing something into the mouth of someone having a seizure is a good way to chip teeth, cut gums, or even break someone’s jaw.
- DON’T restrain someone having a seizure. Most seizures end in seconds or a few minutes and will end on their own.
- The correct seizure first aid is simple: Stay. Safe. Side. STAY with the person and start timing the seizure. Keep the person SAFE. Turn the person onto their SIDE if they are not awake and aware. Do NOT put anything in their mouth. Do NOT restrain. Stay with them until they are awake and alert after the seizure. Call 911 if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes; repeated seizures; difficulty breathing; seizure occurs in water; person is injured is injured, pregnant or sick; person does not return to their usual state, first time seizure; or the person asks for medical help.
- Epilepsy is NOT contagious. You simply can’t catch epilepsy from another person.
- Anyone can develop epilepsy. Seizures start for the first time in people over age 65 almost as often as it does in children. Seizures in the elderly are often the after effect of other health problems like stroke and heart disease.
- Most people with epilepsy CAN DO the same things that people without epilepsy can do. However, some people with frequent seizures may not be able to work, drive, or may have problems in other parts of their life.
- People with epilepsy CAN handle jobs with responsibility and stress. People with seizure disorders are found in all walks of life. They may work in business, government, the arts, and all sorts of professions. If stress bothers their seizures, they may need to learn ways to manage stress. But everyone needs to learn how to cope with stress! There may be some types of jobs that people with epilepsy can’t do because of possible safety problems. Otherwise, having epilepsy should not affect the type of job or responsibility that a person has.
- Epilepsy is a chronic medical problem that for many people can be successfully treated. Unfortunately, treatment doesn’t work for everyone. AT LEAST 1 million people in the United States have uncontrolled epilepsy. There is still an urgent need for more research, better treatments, and a cure.
- Epilepsy is NOT rare. There are more than twice as many people with epilepsy in the U.S. as the number of people with cerebral palsy (500,000), muscular dystrophy (250,000), multiple sclerosis (350,000), and cystic fibrosis (30,000) combined. Epilepsy can occur as a single condition or may be seen with other conditions affecting the brain, such as cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and traumatic brain injury.
- You CAN die from epilepsy. While death in epilepsy doesn’t happen frequently, epilepsy is a very serious condition and individuals do die from seizures. The most common cause of death is sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). While there is a lot we still don’t know about SUDEP, experts estimate that 1 out of every 1,000 people with epilepsy die from SUDEP each year. People can also die from prolonged seizures (status epilepticus). 1.9% of deaths in people with epilepsy is due to this type of seizure emergency.
- What happens in a seizure may look different from one person to another. However, seizures are usually stereotypic, which means the same things or behaviors tend to occur in a person each time they have a seizure. The seizure behavior may be inappropriate for the time and place, but it is unlikely to cause harm to anyone. (Learn about types of seizures.)
- People with epilepsy are usually not physically limited in what they can do. During and after a seizure, a person may have trouble moving or doing their usual activity. Some people may have trouble with physical abilities due to other neurological problems. Aside from these problems, a person who is not having a seizure is usually not limited in what they can do physically.
CBD itself does not have abuse potential and does not produce the “high” that is typical of marijuana, so you do not need to worry about your child abusing the drug or becoming addicted to it. However, it is possible that others may misunderstand the effects of the drug, particularly because it is new and because it is derived from the same plant that marijuana is derived from.
What is medical cannabis?
Cannabis is known by many names – the most common is marijuana. Cannabis is the Latin name used most often by botanists and pharmaceutical companies. The word marijuana usually refers to the leaves and female flowers of the cannabis plant. Medical cannabis is whole plant marijuana or chemicals in the plant used for medical purposes.
Cannabinoids are substances in cannabis that act on cells in the body (called cannabinoid receptors) to cause some effect. Two major ingredients include
- Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which causes the psychoactive effects of “getting high”
- Cannabidiol, or CBD, which does not cause psychoactive effects but has shown some positive effects on certain body systems. This is the part that has been effective in reducing seizures in some people with epilepsy.
Does cannabis help seizures?
Early evidence from laboratory studies, anecdotal reports, and small clinical studies over a number of years suggest that cannabidiol (CBD) could potentially help control seizures. Research on CBD has been hard to do and taken time due to federal regulations and limited access to cannabidiol. There are also many financial and time constraints. In recent years, a number of studies have shown the benefit of specific plant-based CBD product in treating specific groups of people with epilepsy who have not responded to traditional therapies.
What do I need to know about hemp?
Hemp is a variety of Cannabis Sativa L. plant historically grown for fibrous materials found in its stalks and seeds. It has been used to make items such as clothing fiber, upholstery, and other household items.
Hemp traditionally contains lower concentrations of THC and higher levels of CBD. Cannabinoids extracted from hemp plants, including CBD, have until recently been classified as marijuana and considered Schedule I substances. Per the DEA, Schedule I substances currently have no accepted medical use and have a high potential for abuse. A federal law* enacted in December 2018, however, reclassifies hemp and hemp-derived CBD as an agricultural commodity and exempts it from the list of Schedule I Drugs.
Despite this change in the classification of hemp and hemp-derived CBD, the only CBD product that has been rigorously studied and approved to be used as a medical therapy for epilepsy is the drug Epidiolex. While more CBD products may come to market in the coming months, it is important to understand that not every CBD product is the same quality or uniform from batch to batch. Any drug or supplement that is being considered for use as a medical treatment should first be discussed with your doctor. The potential for benefit as well as the interaction with other seizure medications and possible side effects require careful review with your doctor.