Children plagued with seizures often face many problems. But relief will soon come for the parents of these kids in an unlikely form: marijuana.
There are around 30% of American people who have epilepsy despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved many anti-seizure drugs recently. Despite these approved treatments, still many suffer from uncontrollable seizures, and most of them are children. Parents often cannot stand the way their kids go through uncontrollable seizures, and so they often turn to unlikely treatments, such as medical marijuana, to control a disease which has no known cure.
Seizures are abnormal electrical storms in the brain that can make one lose consciousness and sensation. They can even alter behaviour. They often manifest themselves as eye-flickering to full-body convulsions. So many people with intractable or medication-resistant epilepsy suffer from the debilitating consequences of recurrent seizures. This in turn can damage the brain and can negatively affect their quality of life. These seizures are often observed in kids with epilepsy such as those suffering from Lennox-Gastaut, Doose and Dravet syndromes.
A recent article was published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics about the current state of research into medical marijuana for treating epilepsy. This article was written by D. Samba Reddy, Ph.D., R.Ph., professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and co-author Victoria Golub.
According to Dr. Reddy, “There was a lot of media attention about how medical marijuana is good for epilepsy. We became interested in finding out whether there was scientific evidence in the literature to support the claims of these people who have seen great benefits.”
There are around 85 active components in marijuana, but there are two key ingredients that are worth mentioning: delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the psychoactive component of the plant while CBC does not cause any addictions, yet has been shown by some studies to have some anti-seizure potential.
It is said that some derivatives of marijuana are high in CBD but have smaller amounts of THC and these may offer some benefit for intractable epilepsy. There are alternative healing methods such as CBD-enriched products, like Epidiolex and Realm Oil, but their efficacy has not been proven. Also, some homemade compounds exist but their manufacturing processes haven’t been approved by the FDA.
Though THC is known to act like anandamide (from the Indian Sanskrit word “anand” for bliss or happiness), a naturally occurring compound in the brain, the anti-seizure action of CBD is still unclear. According to Dr. Reddy, “It is critical to know how CBD controls seizures, so pharmaceutical companies can design novel synthetic compounds for epilepsy that could surpass the hurdles of mixed CBD extracts”
There are currently 19 trials which are currently testing the use of cannabinoids for epilepsy. The substance is still listed as a Schedule I substance by the federal government, which means that gaining permission to use it in research on human participants is extremely difficult.
Yet, change is now coming. Recreational marijuana is now legal for adults in four states (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington) and in 23 states and Washington, DC, medical marijuana is allowed. Texas has legalized low-THC cannabis oils for people with intractable epilepsy while still prohibiting medical marijuana more broadly since 2015.
In the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, a new study is enrolling Dravet epilepsy patients who have tried Charlotte’s Web, a specific strain of medical marijuana that is low in THC and high in CBD. The researchers will compare the genetics of those who have seen seizure activity decreased dramatically (at least 50 percent) in response to the drug versus those who did not. Though it yields useful information, it is not considered to be the gold standard of scientific drug trials, which is the randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded clinical trial in which patients were randomly assigned to either CBD or a placebo.
Dr. Reddy further added, “Despite all of the controversy about medical marijuana as a potential therapy for epilepsy. Most people agree that what we need is greater rigorous scientific study into cannabinoids to prove or disprove their safety and efficacy.”
Texas A&M University. (2016, February 8). Using medical marijuana to stop seizures in kids. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 20, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160208140604.htm