Updated on August 26, 2020.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Our brains contain billions of neurons that communicate by creating and receiving electrical impulses. During a seizure, this network goes haywire, causing abnormal movements and changes in behavior and awareness.
People who have seizures must undergo medical examinations and tests to identify the source. If epilepsy is the cause, or seizures are related to brain injury, a stroke, or a tumor, a person may need to take one or more anti-seizure medications to prevent future episodes.
Medical marijuana is also an option. Seizures, including those caused by epilepsy, are a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in 43 states.
Doctors can prescribe Epidiolex, an FDA-approved drug that contains a purified oil-based form of cannabidiol (CBD), to treat seizures associated with two rare types of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, just as other anti-seizure medications are prescribed. Epidiolex can also be prescribed “off-label” for seizure disorders not related to Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome.
The CBD in Epidiolex is believed to work by binding to cannabinoid receptors in the brain to reduce inflammation and abnormal electrical activity.
Although CBD has proven to be effective for seizure control, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—marijuana’s other key ingredient—may also play a role. A study in Epilepsy & Behavior of 39 patients at an epilepsy clinic in Oregon, where cannabis is legal, found most reported using cannabis strains with a range of THC and CBD levels to improve their seizure control.
About 30% of patients with epilepsy don’t respond to anti-seizure medications. The Epilepsy Foundation supports the rights of patients and families living with seizures and epilepsy to access all physician-directed care, including medical marijuana.
If you’re considering medical marijuana to help manage epilepsy or another seizure disorder, here are six strains to discuss with your epilepsy specialist and ask about when you visit a budtender at your local medical marijuana dispensary.
Cannatonic: This hybrid offers a THC content of around 6%, with CBD ranging from 6% to 17%, making it powerfully relaxing and beneficial for seizure management.
Charlotte’s Web: This CBD-dominant strain contains 11%-13% CBD and less than 1%THC, much more CBD than average. Charlotte’s Web products are generally taken in liquid form or as gels or patches, rather than being smoked or vaped. If you’re considering Charlotte’s Web, it may be less expensive to have your doctor prescribe Epidiolex (on/off-label) if your insurance plan covers the medication.
Grape Ape: This relaxing strain offers 18%-21% THC with minimal CBD, producing an all-over calm that can benefit people with seizure disorders.
Haleigh’s Hope: A competitor of Charlotte’s Web, Haleigh’s Hope offers a CBD-to-THC ratio of 24:1. Users report that its mellowing effect makes it appropriate for day or nighttime use.
Harlequin: This balanced strain offers 3%-6% THC and 7%-9% CBD, minimizing THC side effects such as paranoia, dizziness and euphoria.
Purple Urkle: This strain offers 13%-18% THC to less than 1% CBD, for an all-over relaxing effect.
Using medical marijuana to reduce seizure frequency can be a matter of trial and error. If you find a successful strain that helps manage seizure disorder, talk to your doctor and/or budtender about a dose and frequency that would be the most therapeutic, while minimizing side effects. In clinical trials of CBD as an epilepsy treatment, patients received CBD oil twice a day.
Side effects of medical marijuana to watch out for include anxiety, panic attacks and even increased seizure frequency, especially with high-THC strains. CBD-dominant medical marijuana may cause minor side effects, such as sleepiness, fatigue, diarrhea, and appetite changes.
About the Author
Sandra Gordon is a writer specializing in health and medicine for consumers and physicians. She has written for Everyday Health, Prevention, Healthgrades, Parents, the Cleveland Clinic, NYU Langone Health, Harvard Medical School, Your Teen, WebMD and many more.