Updated on December 11, 2018. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Living with epilepsy is a serious concern for many Americans. More than three million people in this country alone have been diagnosed with the condition, and every year 200,000 more are added to that number. If you or a loved one has epilepsy, you know the dangers this could present.
AEDs (anti-epileptic drugs) are the most common form of treatment. However, there’s a growing concern with their side effects. There are also patients who don’t respond to this kind of treatment. In these cases, the medical community is at a loss on how to treat these adults and children.
In 2011, a little girl named Charlotte Figi brought cannabis treatments for epilepsy to the nation’s attention. She suffered from daily seizures — as many as 300 a week. Her parents tried every treatment possible, from AEDs to a special diet, but nothing worked long-term. Then they heard about medical marijuana. After starting her on daily cannabidiol (CBD) oil treatments, her seizures decreased dramatically. Now she only has two to three seizures a month.
Should you consider cannabis treatments for your epilepsy? The simple answer is yes.
If you have epilepsy, it’s important to seek medical attention. Even mild seizure activity can have serious side effects and impair a patient’s ability to do activities like bathing, driving or swimming.
Most doctors prescribe anti-epileptic drugs for epilepsy. However, these come with a whole slew of adverse side effects, such as:
There is a fear that AEDs can be especially harmful to children. Studies are currently underway to determine if they have long-term effects on children’s cognitive development and behavior. There’s evidence that AEDs, especially when taken at a young age, can impair a child’s advancement and cause behavior issues like hyperactivity.
Another downside of AEDs is that they only work 80 percent of the time. Patients whose epilepsy doesn’t respond to medication are considered to have treatment-resistant epilepsy. In these cases, there is little doctors can do.
Although cannabis is still federally banned, many states are legalizing it locally for medical purposes. Research and anecdotal stories, like those of Charlotte Figi, prove cannabis is a viable treatment for epilepsy. But how? The problem is that since it’s illegal on a national level, research is limited. As some of the restrictions are lifted, researchers and medical professionals will be able to get a fuller understanding of the potential of medical cannabis.
Until then, in states where medical marijuana is legal, you can seek cannabis medications for many conditions, including epilepsy. When seizures cause the electrical impulses in the brain and body to go haywire, several compounds found in cannabis have been shown to quiet these. One such compound is cannabidiol (CBD).
CBD oil is gaining popular attention because it doesn’t have any psychoactive side effects. This makes it an excellent option for children. There are many cases like Charlotte’s where traditional AEDs don’t help their epilepsy. Cannabis can work even if your condition is treatment-resistant.
If you prefer to stay on your AED, CBD oil can be safely used in combination with these types of medications. Talk with a qualified marijuana doctor to decide if it’s the right fit for you or your child.
For more information about how cannabis can be used to treat Epilepsy, check out our resources: