epileptic seizure cannabis

Cannabis lessens epileptic seizures

Epileptic seizures are really no fun at all. Photo: John Jewell

Epileptic seizures are really no fun at all. Photo:
John Jewell

The benefits of cannabis upon epilepsy have been spoken of for around 150 years but first came to public attention in 2013 with the tale of eight-year-old Charlotte Figi of Colorado. She suffered from Dravet syndrome, a rare and crippling variant of the condition which is resistant to medication. Her seizures lasted for between two and four hours at a time.

Paige, Charlotte’s mum, had always voted against the legalisation of marijuana, the silly hoor, but her husband, Matt, found a video online depicting a little boy in California who employed cannabis extract to reduce his seizures. Charlotte was having 300 seizures a week, sometimes stopping her heart. Cannabis was worth a shot, given that, as stated by Dr Margarete Gedda, who met with the Figis, Charlotte had ?been close to death so many times.?

So what happened next?

In contrast to regular medicine, taking cannabis oil twice daily dramatically reduced the number of epileptic seizures Charlotte endured. In 2014, the NHS pooh-poohed these benefits, pontificating that ?individual successful cases don’t provide strong enough evidence to expose large amounts of people to unknown risks.? So now we have some evidence.

The proof

Neurologist Orrin Devinsky of the New York University Langone Medical Center led the largest-ever study of the use of a cannabis-derived drug for epilepsy. It was published in The Lancet Neurology in December 2015. 162 patients who were as much as 30 years old were treated with an extract of 99 percent cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical present in marijuana that is, most regrettably, not psychoactive. The patients were monitored for 12 weeks. They continued to use their customary medicaments and the trial was open label ? everybody knew what they were taking.

Seizures were reduced by a median of 36.5 percent, which is similar to existing drugs, but these are dead expensive. Two percent of patients became utterly seizure-free. 79 percent of patients, unfortunately, experienced negative effects that included diarrhoea, fatigue and sleepiness, although only three percent withdrew from the study as a result and the effects could have stemmed from other medications. Fatigue and sleepiness are to be expected, since CBD is taken to facilitate sleep. The runs might arise (OK, so literally they fall) because the liver is overloaded with medications – CBD is an effective liver enzyme inhibitor which can increase the concentration of other drugs.

That’s a lot of side effects, innit?

Kevin Chapman, a professor of neurology and pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who was uninvolved with the study, remarked that he was surprised to see so many people adversely affected, but noted that few had to shun the medication and described it as ?relatively safe.?


There were some drawbacks to the study. There may have been a placebo effect, which just might be stronger with marijuana-based products. The CBD could have increased the prevalance of other drugs, and any effects observed might be the product of these. On the other hand, it is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that causes the euphoric effects of cannabis – CBD doesn’t and also carries no risk of addiction or cognitive impairment.

The upshot ? cannabis is great

Kamil Detyniecki, a neurologist at the Yale University of Medicine who did not take part in the study and commented upon it for The Lancet Neurology, declared, ?This is a first step, and it’s great.? CBD, he remarked, ?appears to be safe in the short term? and is, moreover, ?completely different than any other seizure drug.? Future trials will be placebo-controlled.

50 million people in the world ? that’s one in 26 ? will experience epilepsy at some point. Cannabis also helps with cancer, depression, kidney failure and Crohn’s disease. Go and have some right now.

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