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Medical Marijuana and CBD for Epilepsy

Posted on April 12, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Anika Brahmbhatt

People with epilepsy may wonder whether medical marijuana is effective in treating the condition’s symptoms. “I used to have seizures once or twice a month, and I’ve been using marijuana. ... I’m seizure-free now, so I really do think marijuana helps me,” said one MyEpilepsyTeam member.

However, another member said, “I finally started my medical marijuana treatment. Didn’t really enjoy my first round.”

To decide whether medical marijuana is a good choice, it’s important to understand the details about it before speaking with your health care team.

What Is Medical Marijuana?

“Medical marijuana” is a term used to describe a range of products that come from the Cannabis sativa plant, which contains more than 540 different chemical substances and cannabinoids.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most well-known cannabinoids. THC is the substance responsible for the “high” feeling people experience after using marijuana.

CBD, on the other hand, does not cause a high and has been shown to have several health benefits. A large body of research indicates that CBD, often used in a form called CBD oil, may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also commonly used to treat insomnia and pain.

The levels of THC and CBD can vary depending on the product. Some products contain no THC and only have CBD, and this is an important consideration for anyone with epilepsy to understand before looking into using marijuana or CBD.

Medical Marijuana for Epilepsy

More than 30 percent of people with epilepsy are not able to control seizures with the use of conventional treatments. Some research suggests that the use of medical marijuana may improve disease outlook in people with epilepsy, but the evidence is limited for many reasons.

When it comes to smoking medical marijuana, it’s important to note that researchers aren’t always able to study its effects because each plant is slightly different, so dosing is hard to measure. It is almost impossible to know how much of a chemical someone is smoking. Plus, the negative effects of smoking marijuana include damage to the lungs and heart, and marijuana may interact with other medications.

However, the potential for CBD to help people with epilepsy is promising. In 2018, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a CBD oral solution, Epidiolex (cannabidiol), for use in those with seizure disorders (ages 2 years old and up) who have Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, Dravet syndrome, or tuberous sclerosis complex.

Generally, CBD treatments are recommended to be used in tandem with other anti-epileptic drugs and not as a full replacement for those medications.

Potential Risks and Side Effects of Using Marijuana

Several negative side effects are possible when using medical marijuana. Smoking marijuana can have negative long-term effects on respiratory health and increase the chances of chronic bronchitis episodes. Smoking marijuana while pregnant has been associated with a lower birth weight in children. Use of cannabis containing THC before driving increases the chances of being involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Additionally, a 2017 study found that some high-potency or synthetic marijuana tiggered seizures in mice.

Ingesting marijuana has different associated risks than smoking it, including a greater risk of poisoning (taking too much). Regarding edibles, some users can be caught off guard by their strength and durability.

Other side effects commonly reported from CBD include sleepiness, diarrhea, fatigue, and decreased appetite.

Remember to always discuss any new treatment options with your doctor. Given the potential side effects and risks of using marijuana, such as its interactions with other medications, it is especially important to discuss marijuana or CBD use with your health care provider before beginning treatment.

Is Medical Marijuana Legal?

The legality of medical marijuana varies depending on the country or state in which you live. Many states in the U.S. require a medical marijuana card for the legal purchase of marijuana. Most places require that you get a medical recommendation from your doctor to obtain the card.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyEpilepsyTeam is the social network for people with epilepsy. On MyEpilepsyTeam, more than 99,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with epilepsy.

Have you used medical marijuana or CBD to treat epilepsy symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyEpilepsyTeam.

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.
Anika Brahmbhatt is an undergraduate student at Boston University, where she is pursuing a dual degree in media science and psychology. Learn more about her here.

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