Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
Resources
About MyEpilepsyTeam
Powered By

Which Types of Epilepsy Can Be Treated With CBD?

Updated on February 02, 2023
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Brooke Dulka, Ph.D.

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) is a derivative of hemp that can be used to treat severe forms of epilepsy in children and adults, including Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
  • Although CBD products are available over the counter, only prescription CBD medications are approved and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • CBD does not cause intoxication and is generally safe to use, but it can interfere with other medications.

Finding an effective treatment for epilepsy is extremely important but not necessarily easy. This is particularly true for people with treatment-resistant epilepsy, also known as refractory epilepsy. Cannabidiol is one possible treatment option that has gained attention recently.

CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are both derivatives of the Cannabis sativa plant, commonly referred to as marijuana. THC is the chemical that is responsible for the “high” associated with smoking marijuana. CBD has grown in popularity ever since the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 in the U.S., which made it legal to sell hemp and hemp products.

Although marijuana and hemp are technically the same plant, they differ in THC content. Hemp contains incredibly small amounts of THC (less than 0.3 percent by dry weight). Because there is such a small amount of THC found in the hemp plant, you don’t have to worry about getting intoxicated from CBD products, such as CBD oil. CBD has been studied for potential medical use, including treating several neurological and psychiatric conditions such as epilepsy.

Which Types of Epilepsy Can Be Treated With CBD?

There are many forms of epilepsy that occur in people of all ages. Clinical studies have shown that CBD is most useful for severe or treatment-resistant epilepsy. In some studies, CBD has also proved particularly effective and therapeutic for children with severe epilepsy.

Two types of epilepsy are particularly hard to treat and can be quite dangerous:

CBD has been shown in clinical trials to help reduce seizure frequency in individuals living with Dravet syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. These same studies have shown that CBD is safe to use long term in both children and adults, with one clinical trial treating individuals for 96 weeks.

CBD has also shown promising results in treating tuberous sclerosis complex and febrile infection-related epilepsy syndrome (FIRES), two other severe conditions associated with seizures.

How Does CBD Work To Control Epilepsy?

The exact process by which CBD helps control seizures related to epilepsy remains unknown. However, scientists have theories. Some researchers theorize that CBD affects seizures through its interaction with a receptor on neurons (nerve cells) within the brain. A receptor is like a lock on a neuron that can only be activated with a specific key, such as a neurochemical. In this case, a G protein-coupled receptor acts as a gate for releasing calcium, and calcium is critical for brain cell activity and communication.

Scientists also think a neurochemical called adenosine may interact with CBD. Adenosine is the brain’s natural anticonvulsant (or anti-seizure medication). Research in rats supports the idea that CBD increases how much adenosine is available in the brain.

Another brain cell receptor that may be affected by CBD is TRPV1 — also known as the capsaicin receptor and the vanilloid receptor 1. This receptor is more prevalent in people with epilepsy, and CBD is known to make these receptors less sensitive.

Altogether, the complex interactions between CBD and several different brain receptors and adenosine are believed to work with each other to decrease seizure activity.

Over-the-Counter and Prescription CBD Products

CBD products, including tinctures, concentrates, and capsules, are readily available over the counter at a wide variety of stores, from gas stations to specialty CBD boutiques. However, over-the-counter medical cannabis products are not approved by the FDA or regulated in the same way as prescription CBD products. This means these products carry no real guarantee of safety or efficacy. Further, they may not contain the dose of CBD claimed on the label.

Prescription CBD products, on the other hand, are regulated by the FDA. These products must meet certain quality and purity standards. Therefore, you are more certain to acquire safe and effective CBD through a prescription from a doctor. Currently, one formulation of CBD has secured FDA approval for the treatment of epilepsy: Epidiolex. The drug secured approval in 2018 and is indicated for Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome in people ages 1 and up.

Understanding Possible Risks and Side Effects of CBD

If you or a loved one is living with a treatment-resistant form of epilepsy, CBD may help. You should also understand the possible risks and side effects of CBD in order to protect yourself.

So far, scientific research and clinical trials (studies that determine a drug’s safety and effectiveness in people) show that CBD is generally safe and has few to no negative side effects. Studies show that CBD alone does not negatively affect blood pressure, heart rate, or breathing functions. Further, there are no apparent changes in psychological function when CBD is taken by itself, without THC.

There is one big caveat in using CBD: It can cause interactions with other drugs or medications, including antiepileptic drugs (AEDs). Specifically, CBD interacts with other substances that are metabolized by a group of enzymes known as cytochromes P450, which are responsible for breaking down CBD. This means that if you take CBD and another drug that is broken down by these enzymes, CBD may interfere with the level of the other medication in your body.

CBD has been shown to interact with drugs including:

  • Antiepileptic drugs
  • Steroid medications
  • Antidepressants
  • Anxiety medications
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antibiotics
  • Antihistamines
  • Anesthetics
  • Beta-blockers
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Drug interactions can be dangerous and carry serious risks. Because CBD has the potential to interact with other drugs, seek medical advice from your doctor before beginning to take over-the-counter CBD products.

Finding Support as You Treat Epilepsy

Are you having trouble finding an effective way to manage your seizures? Members of MyEpilepsyTeam, the social support network for people with epilepsy and their loved ones, can relate. When you join MyEpilepsyTeam, you gain a community of more than 112,000 people who are living with epilepsy and thousands more who care for a loved one with the condition.

Have you tried CBD to manage your seizures? Did you use a prescription or over-the-counter CBD product? Share your experiences or questions in a comment below, or start a conversation on your Activities page today.

References
  1. H.R.2 — Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 — Congress.gov
  2. Translational Investigation of the Therapeutic Potential of Cannabidiol (CBD): Toward a New Age — Frontiers in Immunology
  3. Cannabidiol: Pharmacology and Potential Therapeutic Role in Epilepsy and Other Neuropsychiatric Disorders — Epilepsia
  4. Long-Term Safety and Treatment Effects of Cannabidiol in Children and Adults With Treatment-Resistant Epilepsies: Expanded Access Program Results — Epilepsia
  5. Dosage Related Efficacy and Tolerability of Cannabidiol in Children With Treatment-Resistant Epileptic Encephalopathy: Preliminary Results of the CARE-E Study — Frontiers in Neurology
  6. Long-Term Safety and Efficacy of Cannabidiol in Children and Adults With Treatment Resistant Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome or Dravet Syndrome: Expanded Access Program Results — Epilepsy Research
  7. Promising Results for CBD in Tuberous Sclerosis Complex-Related Seizures — Neurology Advisor
  8. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Febrile Infection-Related Epilepsy Syndrome (FIRES) in the Acute and Chronic Phases — Journal of Child Neurology
  9. The Proposed Mechanisms of Action of CBD in Epilepsy — Epileptic Disorders
  10. Intrahypothalamic Injection of Cannabidiol Increases the Extracellular Levels of Adenosine in Nucleus Accumbens in Rats — Neuroscience Research
  11. Increased Expression of TRPV1 in the Cortex and Hippocampus From Patients With Mesial Temporal Lobe Epilepsy — Journal of Molecular Neuroscience
  12. Nonpsychotropic Plant Cannabinoids, Cannabidivarin (CBDV) and Cannabidiol (CBD), Activate and Desensitize Transient Receptor Potential Vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) Channels in Vitro: Potential for the Treatment of Neuronal Hyperexcitability — ACS Chemical Neuroscience
  13. An Update on Safety and Side Effects of Cannabidiol: A Review of Clinical Data and Relevant Animal Studies — Cannabis and Cannabis Research
  14. Potential Adverse Drug Events and Drug-Drug Interactions With Medical and Consumer Cannabidiol (CBD) Use — Journal of Clinical Medicine
  15. FDA Approves First Drug Comprised of an Active Ingredient Derived from Marijuana to Treat Rare, Severe Forms of Epilepsy — U.S. Food and Drug Administration
  16. Epidiolex — Highlights of Prescribing Information — U.S. Food and Drug Administration

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Brooke Dulka, Ph.D. is a freelance science writer and editor. She received her doctoral training in biological psychology at the University of Tennessee. Learn more about her here.

Related articles

If you witness someone having a full-body seizure, try to ensure they are lying down on their si...

What To Do During a Seizure: Your Epilepsy Questions Answered

If you witness someone having a full-body seizure, try to ensure they are lying down on their si...
Epilepsy treatments — including surgical interventions — have become more advanced and effective ...

Minimally Invasive Epilepsy Surgery: Cutting-Edge Treatments

Epilepsy treatments — including surgical interventions — have become more advanced and effective ...
If you or a loved one has epilepsy, knowing seizure first aid can help prevent complications and ...

You to the Rescue! Giving Rescue Medicine for Seizure First Aid

If you or a loved one has epilepsy, knowing seizure first aid can help prevent complications and ...
A person can use seizure rescue treatments in addition to their regular antiepileptic drugs (AEDs...

Stopping Seizures: Your Rescue Treatment Options

A person can use seizure rescue treatments in addition to their regular antiepileptic drugs (AEDs...
People use seizure rescue medications — a form of seizure rescue treatment — for seizures that ar...

Why You Need a Seizure Rescue Treatment on Hand

People use seizure rescue medications — a form of seizure rescue treatment — for seizures that ar...
Seizure rescue medications for epilepsy are commonly prescribed to prevent a seizure emergency, w...

Seizure Rescue Medications at School and Work: How To Prepare

Seizure rescue medications for epilepsy are commonly prescribed to prevent a seizure emergency, w...

Recent articles

One in every 20,000 to 40,000 children has Dravet syndrome.Dravet syndrome seizures are hard to c...

What Is Dravet Syndrome? Understanding Symptoms, Treatments, and More

One in every 20,000 to 40,000 children has Dravet syndrome.Dravet syndrome seizures are hard to c...
The ketogenic diet involves consuming high-fat, low-carbohydrate foods like avocados, healthy oil...

The Ketogenic Diet and Epilepsy: Does It Help Prevent Seizures?

The ketogenic diet involves consuming high-fat, low-carbohydrate foods like avocados, healthy oil...
Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) is a severe type of epilepsy that causes seizures that typically be...

Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) is a severe type of epilepsy that causes seizures that typically be...
Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) is a rare genetic disorder that causes benign tumors and lesions...

Tuberous Sclerosis Complex: Life Expectancy, Skin Pictures, and More

Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) is a rare genetic disorder that causes benign tumors and lesions...
Genetics contribute greatly to some types of epilepsy but not all types.Most children born to par...

Is Epilepsy Genetic? The Chances of Inheriting Epilepsy

Genetics contribute greatly to some types of epilepsy but not all types.Most children born to par...
A child living with severe epilepsy may experience one or more types of seizures, some of which a...

What Do Severe Childhood Seizures Look Like?

A child living with severe epilepsy may experience one or more types of seizures, some of which a...
MyEpilepsyTeam My epilepsy Team

Thank you for subscribing!

Become a member to get even more:

sign up for free

close