For people living with a form of drug-resistant epilepsy, the possibility of there being another treatment option is life-changing. Medical cannabis is already helping some people through the NHS, but cannabidiol might be able to offer hope to more people.
Research is underway into the effects of CBD on reducing seizures, and the early results are promising. In this blog, we look at the potential of cannabidiol and how it works.
Approved medical cannabis
'Medical cannabis' refers to any medicine that is derived in part from the cannabis plant, and in the UK it's legal for specialist doctors to prescribe it under some conditions.
Epidyolex is a cannabis-derived medicine that is used to treat two severe and rare forms of epilepsy - Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. It's used by NHS doctors in combination with clobazam (an epilepsy medication) in two groups of people:
- Adults and children over 2 years old with Dravet syndrome who after trying two or more epilepsy medicines are not able to control their convulsive seizures
- Adults and children over 2 years old with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome who after trying two or more epilepsy medicines are not able to control their drop seizures
These guidelines are set by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the UK. In the United States, a similar cannabis-based medication has been licensed to treat these two forms of epilepsy by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Epidyolex contains 98% pharmaceutical grade, pure cannabidiol (CBD) extracted from the cannabis plant. NICE is now calling for more research on using CBD to help treat patients with other types of severe, drug-resistant epilepsy.
CBD for other types of seizures
Seizures are caused by a surge of electrical activity in the brain, and though we normally associate them with epilepsy, they can occur due to a range of different conditions.
Research is still taking place into how cannabidiol can help reduce seizures in people with these conditions, but the early signs are promising. In 2018, researchers published the results of a study¹ that looked at the effect of CBD on 55 people with the following epileptic syndromes:
- CDKL5 deficiency syndrome
- Aicardi syndrome
- Doose syndrome
- Dup15q syndrome
They found that after 12 weeks of treatment, the participants' seizures went down to an average of 22.5 per month. This is a significant reduction from the start of the study, which recorded a baseline of 59.4 seizures on average per month.
What's more, the reduction in seizures remained constant throughout the course of the study (48 weeks), which the researchers say proved the treatment was effective.
More clinical trials like these are needed to test the safety and efficacy of using cannabidiol to treat epilepsy and other conditions that can cause seizures, particularly those that are resistant to anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs).
How does CBD treat seizures?
CBD is one of over a hundred organic compounds found in the cannabis plant. The products that you might see in health food shops are mixed with a carrier agent, like coconut or hemp seed oil, to make CBD oil.
It works by interacting with a series of receptors in your body that make up the endocannabinoid system (ECS). These receptors transmit messages around your body to help regulate things like your sleep, mood, and appetite.
It's thought that CBD might be able to intercept two types of receptors that are associated with 'neuron excitability' - GPR55 and TRPV1. This could mean that it has the potential to reduce seizures but more research is needed.
Cannabidiol is not the only type of phytocannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Its close relation, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is a psychoactive compound that not only creates a 'high sensation' but also has addictive properties.
Clinical trials so far have contained only pure CBD and the effects of THC on people with epilepsy is still unknown. However, some medical practitioners warn that its side effects could make seizures worse, and they are calling for more research.
Buying CBD over the counter
CBD oil is legally available to buy over the counter with less than 0.2% THC. If you have epilepsy or a similar condition that causes seizures, it is important that you check with your specialist before you take anything containing cannabidiol.
Your doctor will be able to advise you on the best way to take CBD so that it doesn't interact with anything else you are taking. You should never stop taking your epilepsy medicine without consulting your specialist first.
There are lots of ways to take CBD oil, but you should always check that the product you are buying has been tested by a third-party laboratory.
At Origin'40, we only stock CBD products that we know contain organic hemp, free-from pesticides and other chemical fertilisers, and like all reputable retailers we have the paperwork to prove it. Just some of the products we stock, include:
- Oils (tinctures) and sprays
- Edibles, such as tea, chocolate, and CBD gummies
- CBD Capsules
- CBD Muscle rubs, joint gel, balms and lotions
- E-liquid for vape pens
When you're considering which products will suit you best, look at the ingredients to check how much CBD and THC they contain. Some products contain only pure CBD and these are known as CBD isolate; others may contain tiny amounts of other compounds known as terpenes, which can enhance the effects of CBD.
The key takeaway
Medical cannabis is being used successfully to treat people with epilepsy, but only in a limited number of cases where other anti-epileptic drugs have failed to work.
CBD and epilepsy is a promising area of research that has the potential to change the lives of thousands of people suffering with daily seizures. Patients and their doctors are looking forward to seeing the outcome of clinical trials in the coming years.
In the meantime, CDB oil is available to buy online and in health food shops with less than 0.2% THC, but if you have epilepsy you must check with your specialist before you start taking anything that contains cannabidiol.
- Yetman, Daniel, Healthline [online] Can CBD oil help with seizures? [updated 13 Jan 2021; cited 5 Oct 2021] Available from: https://bit.ly/3Da6OlC