Seizures are physical and mental episodes in which abnormal brain functions cause a noticeable change in the person’s immediate behavior. This is often caused by electrical signals that occur randomly and affect the brain. Seizures can be caused by a number of serious illnesses, or they may be triggered by the use of a powerful narcotic. For some people, seizures are a normal part of living with such as serious health condition. Any health condition in which seizures are to be expected should be brought to the attention of a doctor for proper medical treatment. However, the doctor may decide that marijuana can be beneficial for controlling the severity of seizures and how frequently they occur.
According to medical science, conventional drug treatment for epilepsy doesn’t work for 30 to 40 percent of patients. The use of marijuana for epilepsy has become increasingly popular, with many patients claiming that it greatly reduces their seizures, while the use of CBD for epilepsy has become nearly mainstream.
Marijuana and Epilepsy
There is historical evidence regarding marijuana and epilepsy dating back to the writings on an ancient Sumerian text from around 2900 BC, as well as its use for epilepsy found in a 12th century Arabian document. In the 19th century, Dr. William O’Shaughnessy successfully used cannabis to treat his patients with epilepsy, leading to its use in England. Later, eminent neurologists J.R. Reynolds and William Gowers documented their clinical use of cannabis, especially in treating patients with epilepsy.
But due to the worldwide ban on cannabis in the following century, there is little modern documented evidence of its efficacy for seizures.
There was a study done on men in New York who were having seizures due to drug use, showing that cannabis appeared to protect against seizures.
And clinicians at the University of California observed that the epilepsy in two patients was almost completely under control through their regular marijuana use. Upon being admitted to the epilepsy monitoring unit, both stopped their marijuana use. At this time, both had a dramatic increase in seizure frequency, which was documented by video-EEG telemetry.
Seizures versus Epilepsy
Not everyone who has a seizure has epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder, while a seizure is defined as a sudden electrical disturbance in the brain. Those who have had two or more, or recurrent seizures, are said to have epilepsy.
Symptoms of a seizure may be things such as sudden fear, anxiety or a feeling of déjà vu. It might also involve staring, temporary confusion, a loss of awareness or consciousness. Non-epileptic seizures can be caused by many things, some of which are alcohol or drug abuse, low blood sodium or low blood sugar, meningitis, brain tumors or head trauma[6,7].
CBD on the other hand, has been well-documented in its use and efficacy for seizures, both epileptic and non-epileptic. Perhaps the most famous instance was in 2013 when six-year-old Charlotte Figi, who suffered from the rare and until then, intractable (drug-resistant) type of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome. Dravet begins within the first year of a child’s life. A few of the hallmarks of Dravet are frequent, prolonged seizures, delayed speech or loss of speech, and behavioral and developmental delays. In addition, those with Dravet have a higher likelihood of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) than other epilepsy patients, at a 15-20 percent mortality rate.
According to Charlotte’s parents, Matt and Paige Figi, their daughter was having over 300 seizures per week, and often more than 60 per day, when they finally learned about an epileptic child in California who was being successfully treated with cannabis. The Figis decided to try it, and in their search for cannabis with a high percentage of CBD and low THC, found the Stanley brothers in Colorado, who were breeding high-CBD strains of cannabis for research purposes. They later named their special strain after Charlotte.
The results were astounding, as Charlotte’s seizures were reduced to none in the first week of treatment as compared to the 300 seizures she’d had the week before. Within three months her seizures were reduced by 90 percent, with a 99 percent reduction after eight months.
CBD for Epilepsy
In June, 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex to treat both Dravet syndrome and another rare, yet severe type of childhood epilepsy known as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Epidiolex contains mostly cannabidiol (CBD) with small amounts of sesame seed oil, dehydrated alcohol, strawberry flavor, and sucralose. For those with medical insurance, the cost of treating epilepsy may be very affordable; in some cases, perhaps more affordable than quality CBD oil. But those who must pay out-of-pocket may find they cannot afford the drug at a cost of up to $32,000 per year.
If you are uninsured or your insurance covers little to nothing for Epidiolex, or you’re allergic to any of the drug’s inactive ingredients, you might want to use CBD instead. The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill made hemp legal in all 50 states, but which state you live in may determine whether you use CBD derived from the marijuana plant or hemp.
Quality and Laws
If you or your child is suffering from any form of epilepsy or seizures not caused by epilepsy, talk to your physician about Epidiolex and natural CBD products. Many CBD products contain small amounts of THC, so be sure to carefully read each product label for THC content (if any), and to learn whether the CBD was derived from marijuana or hemp.
Be diligent in researching quality, as some CBD products on the market do not contain the amount of CBD claimed on the label and may contain pesticides and/or heavy metals, depending on where the plants were grown. Ask for a third-party lab report – most legitimate companies are willing to share these results with their customers. And of course, check the laws in your state regarding the legalities of CBD derived from marijuana and hemp plants. Be especially careful if planning to forgo CBD for cannabis. Use our interactive map to get started.
- Rhys H Thomas, Mark O Cunningham. Cannabis and Epilepsy. BMJ Journals, Practical Neurology. Volume 18, Issue 6
- Brust JC, Hauser WA, Susser M. Illicit drug use and the risk of new-onset seizures. American Journal of Epidemiology
- Hegde M1, Santos-Sanchez C, Hess CP, Kabir AA, Garcia PA. Seizure exacerbation in two patients with focal epilepsy following marijuana cessation. Epilepsy & Behavior 2012
- Mayo Clinic: Epilepsy
- Mayo Clinic: Seizures
- Reza Shouri, MD. Very Well Health: An Overview Of Seizures
- Heidi Moawad, MD. Very Well Health: Causes and Prevention of Seizures
- Refractory Epilepsy. Epilepsy Foundation
- What Is Dravet Syndrome? Dravet Foundation
- Charlotte’s Story. Dravet Data
- FDA-approved drug Epidiolex placed in schedule V of Controlled Substance Act. 2018. DEA
- Epidiolex. RXList.com