Using Medical Marijuana for Epilepsy
People have used medical marijuana for epilepsy since as early as the 10th century. Although weed is a psychotropic drug, it does not link to an increased number of seizures. There is much research data showing medical cannabis helps people with seizures. The cannabidiol (CBD) component plays an especially effective role. CBD is considered safer than the THC component for seizure treatment. Almost one-third of patients with epilepsy have seizures resistant to anti-seizure medications.
What Are Seizures?
Seizures are abnormal bursts of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain that cause short-lived problems with muscle tone or movements. Doctors diagnose epilepsy when a patient has two or more seizures. Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder and affects people of all ages worldwide.
There are many types of seizures and they present in various way. Symptoms may be subtle and hard to detect in some people. One type is an ‘absence seizure.’ These patients often suddenly stop talking or moving and may be unable to break their stare for a short time. Lip-smacking, chewing motions, or eye fluttering is not uncommon. These spells end suddenly with a return to normal activity.
Symptoms of other types of seizures vary and may include:
- Arm or leg jerking or twitching
- Stiffness or limpness
- Loss of consciousness
- Emotional or cognitive changes
- Abnormal behaviors or sensations
- Confusion or an altered state of awareness
Marijuana and Seizures
Cannabinoids are substances in cannabis that act on cells in the body, including the brain. Two main ones are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Patients use medical cannabis produced from parts of the cannabis plant for medicinal purposes. Some studies have found a marked reduction of seizures when compared with a placebo. However, it's important to note that the effects of marijuana on seizures can vary depending on the individual and the type of seizure disorder they have. Some research suggests that THC, another compound found in marijuana, may actually increase the risk of seizures in some people.
Patients use cannabis-derived CBD with traditional anti-seizure medications. There is now an FDA-approved CBD treatment for some childhood-related seizure syndromes. Although this drug helps many, some patients have side effects such as liver problems or suicidal thoughts.
How Does Marijuana Help with Epilepsy?
Researchers are not clear how CBD works to treat seizures. Cannabinoids may help epilepsy by binding specific CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain. Receptor binding blocks the release of enzymes that excite the brain to cause seizures. Of note, CBD may increase the level of some anti-seizure drugs in the body. The increased drug levels make anti-seizure medicines more effective. They may also change calcium levels in the brain that affect cell signals.
What You Should Know About Cannabis Risks
Weed products sold online or in stores are not FDA regulated or approved. As a result, the lack of oversight leads to significant variations in quality. Notably, there is no government-sponsored third-party lab testing. However, this type of cannabis purity testing is an emerging quality check.
Street dealers often lace street weed with spice, K2, or PCP. As a result, these other psychoactive drugs may increase seizure risk. In addition, dosing is erratic and may cause drug interactions. Of note, the level of THC in illicit marijuana is markedly higher. Consequently, CBD is believed safer and more effective for seizure treatment. So, despite the benefits of cannabis, self-treating epilepsy with illegal weed may worsen the disease.
Long-term Effects of Marijuana on the Brain
Marijuana affects the normal growth of brain cells. Immature brains, as found in babies, children, and teens, are susceptible to the harmful effects of THC. Studies suggest that cannabis use by pregnant mothers could be linked to many problems. Children may have attention, memory, problem-solving skills, and behavior. This recent study on pot use in pregnancy links it to mental and behavioral health issues in kids.
Using cannabis before age 18 may affect attention and learning. These effects may last a long time or even be permanent. Kids using cannabis may have memory problems and not do as well in school.
The impact of marijuana use on the brain depends on:
- How often the patient is using.
- THC content or level in the product.
- Age of first use.
- Whether patients use other substances (i.e., tobacco and alcohol) at the same time.
Thinking of Using Marijuana for Your Seizures?
The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes should always be discussed with a healthcare professional, as it may interact with other medications and can have potential side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, and impaired cognitive function.
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