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Epilepsy and Medical Marijuana

Approximately three million people in the United States are diagnosed with epilepsy, and over one third of them experience poorly controlled seizures. The recent legalization of marijuana products have generated great interest and research in medical marijuana as a therapy.

Medical Cannabis and Seizures

As many as 30 percent of people with epilepsy - or about one million Americans - still have seizures while on Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved treatments. Many who suffer from uncontrollable seizures - or their parents - turn to medical marijuana and its derivatives in an attempt to take back control of a condition with no cure. A seizure is an abnormal electrical storm in the brain that causes sudden alteration in consciousness, sensation and behavior that can manifest from an eye flicker to full-body convulsions. People with medication-resistant (also called intractable) epilepsy suffer from consequences of recurrent seizures, which can damage the brain and adversely impact quality of life. This is commonly observed in children with certain types of devastating pediatric epilepsy, such as Lennox-Gastaut, Doose and Dravet syndromes.

Cannabis interaction with receptors in the body

In the endocannabinoid system there are two cannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. Phytocannabinoids isolated from the cannabis plant have broad potential in medicine that has been well recognized for many centuries. It is presumed that these lipid soluble signaling molecules exert their effects in both the central and peripheral nervous system through direct interaction with the cannabinoid receptors.

Significant effort over the last decade has produced an enormous advance in our understanding of both the cellular and the synaptic physiology of these systems. This increase in knowledge has left us better prepared to carefully evaluate the potential for both natural and synthetic cannabinoids in the treatment of a variety of neurological disorders.  Collectively these observations suggest clear potential for effective therapeutic modulation of endogenous cannabinoid signaling systems in the treatment of human epilepsy.

THC and CBD

There are at least 85 active components of the plant colloquially known as marijuana, but two major phytocannabinoids have been the focus of study: delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the psychoactive component of the plant, while CBD doesn't cause any sort of a "high" and isn't thought to be addictive. Preliminary studies -- largely in animal models -- have shown that CBD may have anti-seizure potential.

Derivatives of marijuana high in CBD (but with a negligible amount of THC) may offer some benefit for intractable epilepsy.

Links

Medical Marijuana and Epilepsy

The Epilepsy Foundation

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Using medical marijuana to stop seizures in kids

Science Daily

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JCN Special Episode on Cannabis

The Journal of Child Neurology

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Medical Marijuana for Epilepsy?

National Institutes of Health

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Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Febrile Infection-Related Epilepsy Syndrome (FIRES) in the Acute and Chronic Phases

The Journal of Child Neurology

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