Here's How CBD Oil Benefits Childhood Epilepsy
A note from the publisher: Since the publication of this article, the FDA has approved a CBD-based prescription drug for two special types of epilepsy.
CBD studies suggest it's potential to prevent, reduce and reverse many neurological diseases. Let's take a closer look at how CBD oil can help treating childhood epilepsy.
Parents of children with epilepsy are on the front lines of the scientific debate regarding the causes and treatment of childhood seizures. While conventional science takes the conservative approach in managing seizure threshold, frequency, and severity, the pharmaceuticals do not come without significant, long-term side effects.
Fortunately, medical marijuana is showing great promise. In fact, we are very encouraged by the growing wealth of human clinical study exploring how marijuana may benefit epilepsy.
The Problems with Medical Marijuana
Understandably, parents have some trepidation about using medical marijuana on their children. Marijuana, specifically the cannabinoid called THC, is psychoactive. There is an ongoing debate among physicians about the long-term neurological effects THC might cause during a child’s development.
While much of the negative press for the plant has been the result of a media and political smear campaign, it is incumbent upon the progressive scientific community to substantiate the risk-to-benefit ratio so patients can make an educated decision about using it. But what about parents with epileptic children? Is medical marijuana ever a viable option?
The Potential of Cannabidiol (CBD)
You may already be aware there are many different cannabinoids inside the cannabis plant. Only THC triggers psychoactivity, or a ‘high.’ The other cannabinoids, of which there could be upwards of sixty, have no neurologically mind-bending effects. The most famous alternative cannabinoid is called cannabidiol (CBD).
When we break down the differences between the two principle phytocannabinoids, THC and CBD, we find opposing interactivity between them (1). Historically, marijuana has been regarded almost exclusively in the context of THC, the ‘heady,' more dominant cannabinoid responsible for the ‘high.’ Cannabidiol, on the other hand, appears to prevent, reduce, and even reverse the effects of THC. It also is showing itself useful for the treatment of some major neurological and psychological issues plaguing us today (2).
Epilepsy in Children
Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder, behind only migraine, stroke, and Alzheimer's (read more on CBD for Alzheimer's here and CBD for stroke recovery here).
Its causes are wide-ranging, from trauma and fevers to a reaction to medications. It’s estimated that one in 26 people will experience a seizure at some point in their lifetime. Ancillary issues associated with epilepsy include a reduced performance at school or work, mood disorders, insomnia, and increased risk of falls and other accidents (3).
Epilepsy’s side effects become increasingly severe as the instance of seizing increases. In childhood epilepsy, some children have delayed development due to the number of seizures they experience on a daily basis.
An Introduction to CBD oil for Epilepsy
A 2013 survey of 19 families using CBD-rich oil for a child with treatment-resistant epilepsy was reported in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior (4). The children in this survey were prescribed on average twelve anti-seizure drugs before introducing the CBD.
The introduction of CBD resulted in an impressive 16 of the 19 families (84%) surveyed reporting improvement in the child’s seizures. Two of the children (11%) were reported to be completely seizure-free, eight (42%) reported an 80% reduction in seizure frequency and six (32%) reported a 25% to 60% reduction in seizure episodes.
Other benefits reported during this study were increased alertness, improved mood, and better sleep patterns among the children. Results such as these are beyond promising, especially given the array of side effects epileptic drugs are known for causing, such as lethargy, confusion, appetite and weight loss, increased neuropathic pain, blurred vision, and more (5).
The Story of Charlotte
We in the United States have probably the most well-documented case of using CBD oil for seizures; that of Charlotte Figi. Her case is substantiated, reported by Dr. Sanjay Gupta in his three-part series, Weed. In this emotionally charged piece, Dr. Gupta covers the science, politics, and humanistic issues surrounding the medical cannabis phenomenon (6). Charlotte’s case study led to the development of a now-famous strain of CBD-heavy cannabis called Charlotte’s Web.
Charlotte benefitted from a uniquely high CBD strain of medicinal oil, when no other medications worked, and with miraculous results (7). Before turning in desperation to the CBD oil, Charlotte’s mother describes her daughter as "completely dependent on oxygen for life support, she couldn't walk or talk, or really do much of anything." Charlotte was suffering from more than 1,200 seizures a month, and her parents never expected her to recover.
After only a few doses of CBD oil, Charlotte's seizures disappeared. She is now a happy, healthy third-grade student who can talk, walk and have a completely normal childhood. Her recovery is thanks entirely to the therapeutic benefits of CBD oil.
The Research on CBD oil and Seizures
The research on CBD for childhood epilepsy lags far behind the reported case studies such as Charlotte's. Although medical research has shown time after time that CBD reduces seizures, researchers have not pinned down the neurological mechanism. With that said, there are a few theories currently being studied:
Seizures are a measured explosion of neurological activity, or electrical signaling, rapidly firing through the brain. These bursts basically overwhelm the brain, causing seizures. During CBD use, some research has measured reduced signaling, leading scientists to speculate that maybe CBD has a regulating effect on neurological activity.
Protection of the Hippocampus
When it comes to temporal lobe seizures, medical teams are exploring how CBD could protect the hippocampus region from explosive electrical firing. In other studies, looking at CBD for depression, it seems that the cannabinoid has powerful protective properties for the hippocampus region, which is involved with spatial memory and converting short-term memory into long-term memory.
Endocannabinoid System and Seizures
Since its discovery, the endocannabinoid system remains a mystery in many respects. One of the newest theories is that the endocannabinoid system releases an increased level of endocannabinoids during a seizure. Many of these target the CB1 receptors in the brain. Some scientists theorize that CBD could regulate this activity, aiming to return to a more balanced state.
The Future of CBD for Seizures
In the wake of such promising research, compounded by demands from an eager public to legitimize medical cannabis, both the American Academy of Pediatrics (9) and the American Academy of Neurology (10) have publicly recommended that marijuana be reclassified from a Schedule I drug (no legitimate medical use) to a Schedule II drug (has an accepted medical use but often with severe restrictions). These groundbreaking statements are a tremendous first step to increase the prevalence of the desperately needed human clinical trials for medical cannabis.
Even the American Epilepsy Association (AES) appealed to the Drug Enforcement Agency in 2014 in a public letter that stated in part, “The recent anecdotal reports of positive effects of the marijuana derivative cannabidiol (CBD) for some individuals with treatment-resistant epilepsy give a reason for hope. However, we only have anecdotal reports and robust scientific evidence for the use of marijuana is lacking [...] AES supports the development of well-controlled research studies of any potential new treatments for this disease.”
We are at a unique point in our history in that we have access to more information than ever before. With such information comes the opportunity to challenge convention in a way that empowers us to more fully ask questions and to demand answers that were previously left in the hands of the ‘professionals.' Now science, medicine, and the corporate pharmaceutical industry, as well as parents and teachers are being taken to task as we demand answers for the treatment of childhood as well as adult epilepsy.
1. Curr Pharm Des.2012;18(32):5113-30. The yin and yang of cannabis-induced psychosis: the actions of Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol in rodent models of schizophrenia. Arnold JC1, Boucher AA, Karl T.
2. Curr Pharm Des.2012;18(32):4897-905. Potential protective effects of cannabidiol on neuroanatomical alterations in cannabis users and psychosis: a critical review. Hermann D1, Schneider M.
4. Report of a parent survey of cannabidiol-enriched cannabis use in pediatric treatment-resistant epilepsy. Porter BE, et al. Epilepsy Behav. 2013. Epilepsy Behav. 2013 Dec;29(3):574-7. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2013.08.037.
7.The case for medical marijuana in epilepsy. Maa E, et al. Epilepsia. 2014 Jun;55(6):783-6. doi: 10.1111/epi.12610. Epub 2014 May 22.
8.The Antitumor Activity of Plant-Derived Non-Psychoactive Cannabinoids.
McAllister SD, et al. J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2015. J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2015 Apr 28.
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