Has it been studied?
The answer is yes and no. Cannabis has received increased attention in this area of illness and there has been heavy investigation into the action of cannabis on seizure-related disorders. With growing legalization and output of dispensaries, there has been more of a drive to look into cannabis’ mode of operation. However, many studies involve case reports and anecdotes rather than direct controlled experimentation. These case reports are still important as evidence though.
A more solid body of evidence for the link between cannabis and seizure reduction lies in a controlled study that was done on mice. This study was able to demonstrate that cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found in cannabis, was specifically able to protect against cocaine-induced seizures. The cannabidiol achieved this through the mTOR pathway and also through the reduction of glutamate. In case you’re wondering what in the world those things are, the mTOR pathway regulates cell growth, cell proliferation, cell motility, cell survival, protein synthesis, autophagy, and transcription. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that can cause increased overstimulation in the brain if it is present in overly abundant amounts. Glutamate toxicity can play a role in stroke and epilepsy. According to the study, cocaine increases glutamate release, whereas CBD (cannabidiol) induces the opposite effect. Another animal study found efficacy for cannabis-derived botanical drug substances rich in cannabidivarin and cannabidiol. This study was significant and worth mentioning because it wasn’t specifically tailored around cocaine use.
The good news is that the case reports of success are rather abundant. Published in “Epilepsy and Behavior” in June of 2015, a survey was done involving the recruitment of 117 parents of children with IS (infantile spasms) and LGS ( Lennox-Gastaut syndrome). Parents treated their children with CBD products. According to the survey conductors, “Perceived efficacy and tolerability were similar across etiologic subgroups. Eighty-five percent of all parents reported a reduction in seizure frequency, and 14% reported complete seizure freedom…Reported side effects were far less common during CBD exposure, with the exception of increased appetite (30%). A high proportion of respondents reported improvement in sleep (53%), alertness (71%), and mood (63%) during CBD therapy.” The survey’s conductors felt it important to take note that this was vulnerable to participation biases, and that it was not efficient at studying the safety of the products or the dosages. Another separate case report turned up that provided support for the efficacy of these treatments on a 10-month-old boy who had malignant migrating partial seizures in infancy.
One of the most famous case reports gave birth to the medicinal strain of cannabis now known as “Charlotte’s Web”. Charlotte, for whom the strain was named after, was featured in a special on CNN. She had SCN1A-confirmed Dravet syndrome and her mother decided, rather controversially, to treat her with a high-CBD strain. According to the report, “This extract, slowly titrated over weeks and given in conjunction with her existing antiepileptic drug regimen, reduced Charlotte’s seizure frequency from nearly 50 convulsive seizures per day to now 2-3 nocturnal convulsions per month. This effect has persisted for the last 20 months, and Charlotte has been successfully weaned from her other antiepileptic drugs.”
The difference between THC and CBD (cannabidiol)
According to information found at cancer.gov, THC, or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol was first licensed in 1986 in a synthetic form for the medicinal reduction of chemotherapy-related nausea. It is the psychoactive compound that is activated and absorbed into the brain, especially when smoked. It prompts the brain to produce extra dopamine, causing a sense of euphoria, and it is also the compound responsible for hallucinations. “In some cases, reported side effects of THC include elation, anxiety, tachycardia, short-term memory recall issues, sedation, relaxation, pain-relief and many more,” said A.J. Fabrizio, a marijuana chemistry expert at Terra Tech Corp, a California agricultural company focused on local farming and medical cannabis.
CBD is the cannabis component we’ve been primarily focusing on in this article for the treatment of seizures. It is the more medicinal, therapeutic compound found in cannabis. Interestingly enough, we actually have cannabinoid receptors in our brain. Our brains literally have built in plug-in sites for these compounds. The first receptor known as CBD1 was discovered and classified in 1988. The second receptor known as CBD2 was found later on in 1993. The second receptor is thought to play a possible role in immunity, since the receptor was found in very high concentrations on B lymphocytes and natural killer cells.
Overall, there is mounting evidence to support the use of cannabis’ cannabidiol for the treatment of various types of seizure and epilepsy. There is still ground to improve upon studies, and more headway to make as we discover more in the future.