The use of medicinal cannabis in combating seizures has gained much attention in recent times. Here we fill you in on what we know so far.
An American girl by the name of Charlotte Figi first brought the practice of using cannabis for treating seizures to the attention of the masses. Diagnosed with Dravet syndrome in early life, by the age of 3 Charlotte was having 300 seizures per week despite the fact that she was taking 7 different types of medication. With her life, and that of her parents in complete disarray, they decided to treat her with a high-CBD strain of cannabis.
This strain would come to be known as “Charlotte’s Web”. And after medicating in the form of cannabis oil, she experienced a marked decrease in the number of seizures which reduced to 2-3 per month. It’s an inspirational story and one that has been replicated across a large number of people who suffer from seizures. In an effort to understand the mechanisms of action of this potent treatment for debilitating seizures, we decided to jump in and investigate just what’s going on.
What Exactly is a Seizure?
Seizures are a miscommunication of sorts where the brain’s neurons fire repeatedly and at the same time. Under normal brain operation, it’s the rhythmic firing of neurons that helps ensure smooth and fluent processes.
Several conditions are associated with seizures. While epilepsy is the most commonly known one, others include brain tumors, strokes, brain injuries sustained via heavy impacts, and meningitis.
Types of Seizures
Seizures can be classed into 2 categories, namely generalized or partial. During a generalized seizure, the entire brain is affected by misfiring neurons and it often results in a loss of consciousness and restricted movement.
With partial seizures, the effects are more localized. They generally don’t result in one losing consciousness, but they do however inhibit certain aspects of brain function. One example may be slurred speech.
How can Cannabis Reduce Seizures?
While the science is still being fully worked out, there’s little doubt that cannabis plays an important role in treating seizures. The anecdotal accounts of parents with kids whose seizures have been almost completely eliminated has captured the attention of the scientific community.
When it comes to treating seizures, cannabidiol (CBD) has garnered much attention in recent times. It has been found to work its magic within the endocannabinoid system via negative allosteric modulation of the cannabinoid CB1 receptor.
In total, however, there are 4 currently identified cannabinoids that can be harnessed for their anti-epileptic benefits, namely: Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabidivarin (CBDV), Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), and Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol acid. Their full effects are still to be entirely understood, but the results thus far have been very promising.
When it comes to understanding the anti-seizure benefits of cannabis, both CBD and CBDV are the most well-studied. One scientific study carried out has shown positive results on both animals and humans in clinical trials. Their effects are thought to be modulated via their interaction with the capsaicin receptor, also known as TRPV1. It forms a part of a family of ion channels involved in the onset and propagation of several different types of epilepsy.
Both CBD and CBDV were found to first activate, before then desensitizing the TRPV1, TRPV2, and TRPA1 channels. The desensitizing of these channels may be a potential mechanism by which these cannabinoids reduce the neuronal hyperexcitability that contributes to epileptic activity and seizures.
Science is closing in on the mechanisms of action, but still has a way to go before we can fully understand the processes behind using cannabis to treat seizures.
Long Term Use of Cannabis to Treat Seizures
Studies have found that tolerance tends to develop in about ⅓ of patients after 7 months of medicating. In such cases, doses generally have to be increased by 30%, but to many, this is a small price to pay for the possible benefits in treating those susceptible to frequent seizures.
Few people experience extreme side effects from CBD use. For those that do however, the common complaints include sleepiness and gastrointestinal effects such as nausea, low appetite, and vomiting. Others, on occasion, experience skin rashes or dryness. The reason for this is thought to be brought on via the use of impure extracts, which highlights the responsibility the consumer has to demand only the purest high-quality extracts.
The safety profile on CBD is extremely high. In the United States alone medicinal use of CBD is now legal in 30 states. The FDA was quick to downregulate it from a scheduled I drug to schedule V once the medicinal properties became apparent.
Medicating with Medicinal Cannabis for Seizures
For those who decide to use cannabis to treat seizures, it’s important to do your research. As excluded to above, there’s a lot more to it than simply smoking some cannabis and hoping the symptoms disappear.
A high-quality strain rich in CBD that’s distilled into an oil is a good place to start. The extraction technique used is also important to allow the plant’s effects to be modulated. The entourage effect is a commonly used term for describing how all the properties of the strain work in unison to provide medicinal benefits. Between cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids, you’ll want to ensure your high-quality extract contains as much of the original plant goodness as possible.
However, everyone reacts slightly differently when medicating with cannabis, so it’s important to experiment, while also keeping an eye on the emerging science in this fascinating new field.