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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.