Ever since people became more accepting of marijuana, it has become a common alternative for treating an array of medical ailments. Now, people are replacing their Tums and Advil with medical marijuana. However, unlike most other chronic conditions that over-the-counter supplements can help manage, treating epilepsy requires a specific chemical cocktail not quite so easily available.
This is the reason why so many desperate families are turning to marijuana, specifically its cannabidiol, or CBD, properties, to treat their epileptic family members. Pot has proven such a promising anti-epileptic that the Food and Drug Administration is busily funding several clinical trials. Because marijuana, in particular, is such an effective seizure treatment, it is crucial that research continues.
Epilepsy is a horrible condition. Sufferers endure recurring seizures, which vary in effect and intensity. They are the result of disturbance to certain areas of the brain’s circuitry, which leads to bursts of intense electrical activity. According to Cure Epilepsy, the condition afflicts roughly three million people in the United States alone. That means one in every 26 Americans gets epilepsy in their lifetimes.
For two-thirds of epileptics, there is no specific origin for their illness, and seizures can be life-threatening. As Cure Epilepsy says, of all childhood fatalities, 34 percent are the fault of epileptic seizures, or seizure-related accidents. These statistics are frightening. There is an incredible need, still unmet, for novel drugs that can treat seizures effectively. Development of such drugs is paramount.
Although seizures can be massively disrupting, even lethal, the majority of sufferers are able to manage their condition with medicine. Many grow out of it, although that does not always happen. Epilepsy and seizure disorders are unique to the person that has it, which is exactly why seizures are among the most difficult conditions to treat.
Recently, more and more stories about how marijuana is helping epileptics are making news headlines. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of anecdotal stories in just the United States. The phenomenon is global, however, and many are about kids with epilepsy using medical marijuana. One even had a strain named after her: The world-famous high-CBD strain Charlotte’s Web pays tribute to Charlotte Figi.
This is just one case shining the spotlight onto medical marijuana and its uses. There are many, many others, despite its Schedule I classification under the Controlled Substances Act, and the federal government’s refusal to recognize its medicinal applications, and even the generally accepted age for consuming mind-altering substances.
Medical Marijuana and Epilepsy Research
Although inspiring, these stories have a more important role to play: They provide anecdotal evidence of the efficacy of medical marijuana in treating an array of conditions, from the young to the old. Even if the medicinal qualities of cannabis, such as CBD, seem self-evident, only recently has the Drug and Enforcement Agency allowed researchers to study its effects, usefulness, and side effects.
This apparently innocuous about-turn is a giant step in the right direction for scientists, breeders, pharmaceutical companies, and everyone involved in the marijuana community. Now, more funding will become available as investors inject scientific capital into understanding this miraculous plant. Dr. Francis M. Filloux wrote in the Translational Pediatrics journal:
“Based on these preclinical studies, one would be excited about the potential therapeutic potential of the cannabinoids. However, it is undeniable that the complex regulation that surrounds this Schedule I substance has impeded the scientific investigation of their therapeutic potential.” Weed is the only substance in history that, despite widespread consumption, still requires clinical human trials.
However, patients nationwide do have access to “generic” variations of CBD-rich marijuana products currently thriving outside of the federal government’s reach. Testing pure CBD in clinical trials will provide scientific, tested evidence to lay the foundations for future development of various CBD products, as well as synergistic marijuana cocktails designed to treat other specific conditions.
As clinical trials progress through their different stages, they become more significant and rigorous. A company, GW Pharmaceuticals, is currently conducting groundbreaking Stage 3 clinical trials on one of its products. Epidiolex is a 98 percent, almost pure CBD preparation that will soon verify the therapeutic value of cannabidiol. This study has far-reaching implications for medical marijuana, as Dr. Filloux notes:
“Until the last few years, the published data was minimal and included fewer than 70 subjects. Very few of these were children. Furthermore, none of these studies would meet criteria as Class I-III clinical trials. However, this state of affairs is rapidly changing given the current climate.” Scientific interest abounds, and results are now proving the effectiveness of cannabis-based treatments.
Health Benefits of Marijuana for Epileptics
The human body already produces its own cannabinoids, specifically its endogenous cannabinoid system. It is ubiquitous in us and highly susceptible to the cannabinoids found in medical marijuana. Because of this biological compatibility, it is clear that the more scientists conduct research, the more patients will experience the health benefits of marijuana.
Using marijuana for epilepsy is the future of seizure treatment. Director of Clinical Research at Tilray, a Canada-licensed producer, Catherine Jacobson weighs in on the future of medical marijuana for epilepsy, as well as the scientific progress still so fundamentally necessary:
“A pure CBD formula was the safest way to begin trials on epilepsy patients because of its lack of psychoactive effects. The trouble with developing a single pure CBD formula is that epilepsy has never been a one-size-fits-all disorder. Of the 200,000 children living with treatment-resistant epilepsy, only a fraction has access to clinical trials investigating CBD.” She continued to say:
“This leaves most parents and patients to acquire their own CBD-rich cannabis, which always contains some percentage of THC. It is important to learn from these cases to understand which types of epilepsies might respond to a combination product, and to inform future clinical trials. Early results from clinical studies on GW Pharma’s Epidiolex clearly show a beneficial effect of CBD on some types of seizures, but more research is needed to fully understand whether a combination THC/CBD product can reduce the seizure burden in those patients who do not respond to CBD alone.”
These words validate the findings of Dr. Edward Maa, Chief of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at Denver Health and Hospitals. In Epilepsia, Dr. Maa writes, “It is possible that CBD and THC work synergistically to suppress seizures. In fact, Ethan Russo, senior medical advisor to GW Pharma, recently reviewed the evidence for the ‘entourage effect’ of the phytocannabinoids and terpenoids, and he makes a strong case for their synergistic effects in a variety of disease states.”
Despite the commonness of this disorder, as well as its potentially lethal, exceptionally disruptive symptoms, uncertainty is fading regarding the effectiveness of CBD-based marijuana for epilepsy. The scientific community is finally giving this banned substance the due diligence that it deserves, and Dr. Jacobsen will be leading many up and forthcoming studies.