If you are living with epilepsy or have a loved one who is living with the condition, you know that seizures can have a major impact on safety and independence — as well as the ability to work or go to school, drive, socialize, and perform other daily activities.

But although anti-seizure medications can help to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures in some people, medications don’t work for everyone. In fact, the Epilepsy Foundation estimates that one-third of people who have epilepsy have “uncontrollable seizures because no available treatment works for them.”

CBD Shows Promise for Treating Epilepsy

Many people who have seizures caused by difficult-to-control types of epilepsy such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome — as well as parents of children who have a rare genetic form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome — are looking for new ways to control seizures and improve quality of life. Some of these adults and parents, as well as medical researchers and physicians, are finding new hope in the use of cannabidiol, or CBD, for reducing the frequency and severity of seizures.

CBD is a cannabinoid molecule produced by cannabis. Unlike THC, which is the most common cannabinoid, CBD is non-intoxicating. It also has significant pain relief, anti-inflammatory, and anti-anxiety properties, which offer a wide range of possible medicinal applications. CBD is usually administered orally in oil form to control seizures and can be given as drops under the tongue or mixed with food.

Medical cannabis, a type of marijuana that contains both THC and CBD, has been used successfully to control seizures. Several states have approved the use of medical marijuana for epilepsy, but research is showing that CBD may be more effective than THC at reducing seizure activity. Some types of medical marijuana are low-THC and high-CBD, meaning that they have less of the intoxicating component that causes a “high” and more potentially beneficial CBD.

Encouraging Results from Research

More research is needed to understand exactly how CBD affects the brain, but researchers believe that CBD may control seizures by calming the brain’s abnormal electrical activity and chemical processes. Animal studies have shown that CBD has an anti-convulsant and neuroprotective effect, which means that it shows promise as a preventative treatment for epilepsy in humans.

Although research into the possible applications of CBD for epilepsy treatment is encouraging and ongoing, some parents of children who have epilepsy are not waiting for further research results. Many parents with children who have severe, uncontrolled epilepsy are giving their children CBD now — and some are reporting life-changing results.

Most importantly, human studies are also showing promising results. Scientific researchers have conducted several controlled studies on CBD, meaning that study participants were divided into two or more groups for comparison. One group received a placebo (or a harmless substance that has no therapeutic effect), and the other group received the medication. In controlled studies, other variables such as dosing, medication strength and administration of medication are standardized.

Some controlled studies are double-blind, meaning that neither the researchers nor the participants know who received a placebo and who received the medication. Open-label studies do not use a placebo and both the researchers and participants know about the treatment that is being given.

An open-label study of an oral CBD solution found that of the median reduction in monthly motor seizures was 35.6 percent during the 12-week study. Study participants ranged from 1 to 30 years old and included patients who had Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. 

A double-blind, placebo-controlled 14-week trial of 120 children with Dravet syndrome showed that, on average, the frequency of convulsive seizures decreased from 12.4 per month to 5.9 per month after CBD treatment. In the placebo group, the average frequency of convulsive seizures decreased from 14.9 per month to 14.1 per month. Five percent of patients became seizure-free after using CBD, while none became seizure-free after using the placebo.

Two double-blind trials in patients with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome have also been completed, but only summary results are currently available. The first trial, which included 171 patients, found that patients treated with CBD experienced a 44-percent average reduction of drop seizures. The second trial divided participants into two different dosage groups for CBD, as well as one placebo group. The study found that both of the CBD groups experienced a significant reduction in the average monthly frequency of drop seizures.

Strong Anecdotal Evidence, Especially Among Parents

Although research into the possible applications of CBD for epilepsy treatment is encouraging and ongoing, some parents of children who have epilepsy are not waiting for further research results. Many parents with children who have severe, uncontrolled epilepsy are giving their children CBD now — and some are reporting life-changing results.

In a survey conducted in Mexico on 43 children with epilepsy, 81.3 percent of parents whose children used CBD reported a decrease in convulsions. Fifty-one percent of parents reported a moderate to significant decrease in convulsions, and 16 percent of parents reported that their children were seizure-free.

Not only are parents reporting a reduction in their children’s seizures after CBD therapy, but they also are reporting a better quality of life, including improved social interactions, memory, behavior, and energy.

Another survey of the parents of 19 children who were using CBD-enriched cannabis, 16 parents (84 percent) reported a reduction in their child’s seizure frequency. Of the 16 children who experienced less-frequent seizures, two children were reported to be seizure-free. The study also reported that children were also more alert, had a better mood and improved sleep.

As research into CBD for epilepsy treatment continues, studies will look at exactly how CBD impacts the brain. Researchers also will try to determine effective dosing and strength guidelines for epilepsy treatment using CBD and will look at whether CBD interacts with other anti-seizure medications. But, for people with uncontrolled epilepsy who are out of treatment options, CBD may offer a way to control seizures — as well as a chance at an improved quality of life.


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