The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported just over 3.4 million Americans diagnosed with epilepsy. The first time that information about the total number of patients in each state was reported was 2015. Marijuana Doctors noted that that there were 3 million adults and 470,000 children diagnosed with the condition, according to the CDC.
The number of people diagnosed with epilepsy is rising quickly. There were just over 2.3 million U.S. adults with the condition in 2010. Incidents of diagnoses in children, however, have remained relatively low.
When many people think about epilepsy, they think of seizures. When someone with epilepsy has a triggering event, that causes one of three levels of neurological response. There are many different types of seizures, but they fall into two categories: focal or generalized onset.
What are the risk factors and treatment options for epilepsy? The degenerative disease does not currently have a cure. And treatments can include medical and even surgery. But now, people who have epilepsy have another alternative.
Doctor-supervised medical cannabis might be the best new therapeutic option for patients. We mentioned that there were two categories of seizures. There are Focal or Partial Seizures and Generalized-Onset Seizures.
Symptoms of a Focal Seizure
Did you know that people who experience focal seizures have sensations that act like an ‘early warning’ to let the individual know they are about to have an episode? Patients can experience what is called an ‘aura’ before the seizure happens.
With focal seizures, the electrical impulses travel across the brain slowly. As they travel, additional symptoms may occur. The individual can feel confused or slightly dazed. This can be followed by tics like hand fumbling or grinding of the teeth.
Muscles can stiffen, and then tremors start. Focal seizures usually happen in only one hemisphere of the brain. This is why the individual can notice the symptoms starting. And sometimes, get help or lay down to reduce injury. If the individual does not lose consciousness, a focal seizure can last under two minutes.
Someone experiencing a focal aware seizure can be aware of what is happening throughout the episode. And they will feel and notice sensations, or jarring body movements, or tremors. Focal seizures can start small and localized to one specific area of the body. But they can spread quickly to other areas of the brain and body.
When focal seizures spread, the risk of injury increases. A focal seizure can accelerate a tonic-clonic seizure, resulting in breathing difficulties and injuries from falling or severe muscle spasms. Muscle weakness can also be a feature of focal seizures, making it difficult for the person to ask for help.
Generalized Onset Seizures
The second category is called Generalized-Onset Seizures. There is a hereditary correlation; disorder can be passed generationally in families. Generalized onset seizures happen when nerves malfunction and send a rapid succession of nerve messages to the brain.
The best way to describe this type of seizure is to think of your computer web browser. If you open a couple of tabs, you are okay. Open a hundred tabs on Google at the same time, and you are going to crash your browser. And maybe even your computer.
The analogy works because our brains work the same way. The brain can process millions of messages per day from receptors all over the body. But if the majority of those receptors decided to send a message to the brain at the same time? System overload. And that’s why it starts a chain reaction of symptoms.
The onset of generalized seizures can also be triggered by drug or alcohol use or sleep deprivation. The four types of generalized onset seizures are:
● Absence Seizures (formerly, Petite Mal seizures)
● Myoclonic seizures
● Tonic and Atonic Seizures
● Tonic, Clonic and Tonic-Clonic Seizures (formerly, Grand Mal)
Source: Web 2021 HopkinsMedicine.org
Young children may develop Childhood absence epilepsy between the ages of four to six years. Sometimes children outgrow the condition, and it disappears for a few years. Then, Juvenile absence epilepsy can start. Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy (JME) can continue from teen years through to adulthood.
Can You Get a Medical Card if You Have Epilepsy?
Getting a medical card if you live in a legalized state is usually not a problem. The medical community understands that cannabinoids have a legitimate impact. Cannabis helps reduce tremors and relieve the pain associated with having epilepsy. If an individual has seizures daily, it can be as painful as an extreme muscle workout every day.
The FDA approved the first cannabinoid epileptic medication in 2018. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Epidiolex, a CBD (cannabidiol) oral liquid solution. It has been approved for therapeutic use for patients that have Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Specifically for children aged two years and older.
Epidiolex is the first drug that the FDA has approved for Dravet syndrome, which is considered a rare disease and is an epileptic disorder. The CBD-based medication is non-psychoactive but has been clinically proven to reduce the frequency and sometimes the severity of seizures.
Many industry experts think that the FDA approval of Epidiolex legitimized the use of cannabis for epilepsy symptoms. Consequently, states have added epilepsy to the list of standard qualifying health conditions. In some cases, the term ‘intractable’ epilepsy is stated as the requirement. Which means treatment-resistant epilepsy, or where other modalities of reducing symptoms have not been effective.
How Effective is Medical Marijuana at Treating Epilepsy?
We have reached a tipping point in terms of the legalization of cannabis. There are thirty-six states (at the time of writing) that have medical marijuana programs. And every program has listed epilepsy as a qualifying health condition. A diagnosis that makes it possible to get a medical card.
Many people know that cannabis can help patients with epilepsy. But few people understand how it works. With hope for finding a cure, the main focus for patients with epilepsy is to help reduce symptoms.
There are four ways that cannabis can help people living with epilepsy:
- It can reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures.
- It can act as an analgesic for pain relief of sore muscles.
- It may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression for moderate to severe and treatment-resistant patients.
- It can help improve the quality of sleep by reducing discomfort and inflammation.
A recent study compared the clinical results for patients when a pharmaceutical-grade CBD oil was used compared to an ‘artisanal’ or store-bought non-prescription type. Patients who took prescription CBD had a 39% reduction in seizures. However, patients who took artisanal CBD had a 70% increase in seizures during the medical trial.
In “Keep Off the Grass: Artisanal versus Pharmaceutical Cannabidiol in Pediatric Refractory Epilepsy Patients” was written by Nathan Cohen, Joan Conry, and John Schreiber
Breakout Clinical Study of Cannabidiol and Epilepsy from Italy
Because of the lack of funding for medical cannabis research in America, the majority of clinical studies about epilepsy and cannabinoids are international. One of the most cited studies in “Cannabinoids in the Treatment of Epilepsy: Hard Evidence at Last?”. The paper was written by Emilio Perucca, from the Division of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology, Department of Internal Medicine and Therapeutics, at the University of Pavia, Italy.
In the study, Perucca researched oral cannabis therapies for children who have epilepsy. The research paper states:
“The results of these studies demonstrate that, at a dosage of 20 mg/kg/day, CBD added on to pre-existing AED treatment is superior to placebo in reducing the frequency of convulsive (tonic-clonic, tonic, clonic, and atonic) seizures in patients with Dravet syndrome, and the frequency of drop seizures in patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. “
J Epilepsy Res. 2017 Dec; 7(2): 61–76. Published online 2017 Dec 31. doi: 10.14581/jer.17012 PMCID: PMC5767492
Cannabidiol therapies have been clinically proven (in multiple studies) to reduce the frequency and severity of epileptic seizures (for some patients). And one of the other benefits is that cannabidiol does not appear to interact with other medications used for epilepsy, including AEDs (anti-epileptic drugs). It was published on April 14, 2020, in the American Academy of Neurology.
Where traditional treatments cannot provide relief, doctor-supervised cannabis therapies may hold the key to improving the quality of life for patients with epilepsy.