Epilepsy is affecting a large part of the US population. People who suffer seizures have to bring a lot of changes in their lifestyle, and sometimes, they also undergo surgery and dietary changes. Some claim cannabis may be effective against epilepsy. It’s a matter of huge debate in the medical community that cannabis can cure seizures? Some say it’s safe and effective while others disagree. In a ground-breaking development, the United States Food and Drug Administration in the year 2018 even approved Epidiolex, a CBD or cannabidiol-based oral solution for the treatment of two types of seizures.
These two seizures are associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy — called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome. Mostly, these seizures affect children aged two or more. Epidiolex, manufactured using purified drug substances derived from a marijuana plant, was the first such drug that got a green signal from the US department. So what is the truth behind cannabis and seizures?
A little bit of history about cannabis
Marijuana or cannabis has been associated with humans for a long time. The cannabis plant was first grown around 500 BC in central Asia. Experts have found burned cannabis seeds in graves in China and Siberia, dating back to 500 BC. According to estimates, the hemp plant then evolved in Africa and Europe. The cultivation of cannabis moved to America, where people first used it to make clothes, paper, ropes, and sails. Many people also consumed it as food. During its initial years, cannabis was not grown to get high. In the 15th and 16th centuries, cannabis popularity grew manifold, leading to its production for commercial purposes across American states like Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia.
It has been found that cannabis cultivated during that period contained an extremely low level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical that causes ‘high’ among people. Evidence suggests that people later started experimenting with cannabis plants to produce marijuana with higher THC levels. This was often used for health purposes and religious ceremonies. Various racial and political factors played a big role in criminalizing cannabis in the 20th century.
What’s seizure and epilepsy?
It’s a chronic disorder in which a patient experiences unprovoked and recurrent seizures, which is a rush of electrical activity inside our brain. Mostly, a patient suffers from two types of seizures — the one that affects the whole brain and the other in which just one part is affected. In seizures, a person loses consciousness and causes spasms and uncontrollable muscle twitches. As a patient loses consciousness, he or she may not retain the memory of the incident. In most cases, there are four different reasons that a person may face seizures, including high trauma, high fever, alcohol or any drug withdrawal symptoms, and low blood sugar. Though people of all ages can suffer from epilepsy, kids and older adults are most affected by the disease. So far, there’s no particular cure for epilepsy, but in most cases, the disease can be managed via medications and other therapies.
Research on cannabis use against epilepsy
Anecdotal experiences suggest medical cannabis has been effective against the problem of seizures even though the medical science community is yet to fully accept this claim. Marijuana affects our memory that can lead to missed doses, which may make seizure problems worse. If kids are administered cannabis, their cognitive abilities may get affected. Not to forget the effect on the lungs that continuous cannabis use can cause. Despite these facts, research has also found that strains of cannabis high in CBD can lower epilepsy issues. Researchers, however, say more studies are required to fully understand CBD’s impact on epilepsy. Overall, the current assessment on cannabis use against epilepsy is that it does not curb seizure problems.
What are CBD and Epidiolex?
For those of you who don’t know much about CBD, it’s one of the 500 compounds found in a cannabis Sativa or a hemp plant. CBD is the main compound that forms the basis of Epidiolex. This chemical, which is extracted from hemp using a solvent, has properties that give you a feel-good effect without causing ‘high’. It’s the other prominent compound called tetrahydrocannabinol or THC that holds the primary psychoactive properties of marijuana. However, CBD is still a Schedule 1 substance under the US Controlled Substance Act, primarily because of its presence in cannabis or hemp plants. Epidiolex is nothing but cannabidiol, which is extracted from cannabis or hemp plants.
CBD has the power to mimic natural endocannabinoids that act on brain receptors. These receptors can cause seizures if they are faulty. That’s where Epixiolex comes in. Researchers have found a lower intake of Epidiolex can have better safety and tolerability prospects.
Side-effects of cannabis
Cannabis of three types — cannabis Sativa, cannabis Indica and cannabis ruderalis. During the production, the flowers of cannabis plants are harvested and dried, and you are left with nothing but cannabis. Sativa causes euphoric feelings, while Indica soothes your mind. Ruderalis provides a balance between the two. Cannabis has many health benefits too. However, there are many risks too. Depending on your body type, you may feel relaxed, increase hunger, giddiness, increased focus, altered perception. In case you belong to the severe category, you may face paranoia, reduced blood pressure, increased heart rate, anxiety, nausea, and even coordination issues. It’s worth noting that strains high on CBD may not give rise to such effects. Cannabis overuse can also affect your memory, and increased dependence can also cause respiratory issues and lung problems.
Marijuana is becoming quite popular in the US and other parts of the world but it needs to be regulated. People overusing marijuana may face many health complications and sometimes, these are life-threatening. Research so far indicates marijuana does not work against epilepsy, while CBD-based products may provide some relief. Word of mouth or anecdotal experiences can sometimes be misleading. The need of the hour, now, is to pursue authorities to allow in-depth research around cannabis products to gain maximum benefits from its medicinal properties.