Epilepsy can be a very scary disease to deal with. The main symptom is a seizure, which may occur at any time and markedly increases the risk of accidents, such as falling or getting into a car accident while driving.
The most common treatment involves the use of anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). These drugs do not cure the disease or stop seizures after they occur, but they may help control the frequency and severity of the seizure.
There is some evidence to suggest that Cannabidiol (CBD) may offer an alternative treatment.
You will find our article titled What is Cannabidiol (CBD)? very helpful with understanding CBD.
Several studies have found a potential link between CBD and reduced monthly seizures.
So, can CBD help with epilepsy? The following information covers the some of the details I have found to support the use of cannabidiol for reducing the occurrence and severity of epileptic seizures.
Epilepsy Affects Millions of People Around the World
Epilepsy isn’t that rare. In fact, epilepsy is the fourth most common type of neurological disease.
The most common symptom related to epilepsy is a seizure – a disruption of normal brain activity.
The brain consists of billions of cells called neurons. When these neurons misfire, patients experience a wide range of temporary impairments, such as convulsive body movements or even a loss of consciousness.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that about 65 million people globally suffer from epilepsy. The disease can occur at any age, but 50% to 60% of children suffering from seizures will outgrow the affliction.
For those that continue to suffer from the disease into adulthood, the seizures can bring additional health risks and medical complications. Adults diagnosed with epilepsy are more likely to experience the following:
- Depression and anxiety
- Car accidents
- Pregnancy-related complications
Epilepsy is a serious disease that impacts the quality of life of sufferers. There are also different types of seizures.
What Are the Different Types of Epileptic Seizures?
Epilepsy can cause debilitating seizures which doctors categorize into different groups. The main categories include focal seizures and generalized seizures.
An additional type of epileptic spasm affects children, with the onset typically occurring between four and eight months of age. Doctors call these spasms infantile spasms, as they tend to occur during the first year of life.
For adults, the seizures appear to fall into one of the two previous categories – focal and generalized.
Focal seizures are the most common, affecting 60% of people diagnosed with epilepsy. Doctors also refer to these seizures as local seizures or partial seizures.
Partial seizures start in a specific part of the brain. Doctors may categorize the seizures as simple or complex.
With simple seizures, patients remain aware. These seizures include four subcategories:
Motor symptoms include jerking and muscle stiffness. Sensory symptoms include sensations that affect the senses.
Autonomic symptoms affect the nervous symptom and may lead to a racing heartbeat or loss of bladder control. The psychological symptoms may include a change in memory and emotion.
Patients that suffer from complex partial seizures experience partial impairment of the senses. They may experience the symptoms discussed for simple seizures and become unaware of their surroundings.
In some cases, the seizures progress from focal seizures to generalized. Doctors often categorize the progression of the disease as secondarily generalized seizures.
Generalized seizures occur when nerve cells on both sides of the brain misfire. These seizures tend to be more severe and may cause muscle spasms or blackouts.
There are six types of generalized seizures:
- Tonic – involves stiffening of the muscles
- Clonic – involves repetitive jerking movements
- Myoclonic – involves jerking or twitching movements in the legs, arms, or upper body
- Atonic – involves a loss of muscle tone and definition
- Tonic-clonic (Grand mal) – involves a combination of the previous symptoms
- Absence – involves a short loss of consciousness
With all types of generalized seizures, patients may experience a loss of consciousness and severe muscle contractions.
Common Treatments for Epilepsy
The treatments vary based on the type and severity of the seizures, but the most common option is medication.
Doctors frequently prescribe anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) to help control the severity and frequency of the seizures. Most patients can eventually discontinue medication after several years. However, the anti-epileptic medications also bring a risk of side effects:
- Memory problems
- Skin rashes
- Speech problems
- Loss of coordination
- Suicidal thoughts
While many patients experience fewer seizures after taking AEDs, 35% continue to deal with seizures.
Depending on the severity and type of epileptic seizures, doctors may also recommend surgery or different forms of therapy.
How Can CBD Help with Epilepsy?
After reviewing the most commonly used treatments, I wanted to see whether CBD provides a suitable alternative. I discovered that people have used cannabis to treat seizures for thousands of years.
Sumerian texts from 2900 BCE mention the use of cannabis to treat seizures. However, we’re more interested in the latest research. It turns out, several studies have specifically examined the benefits of CBD for epilepsy.
In one study, Australian doctors gave CBD oil to 120 children and young adults suffering from epilepsy. Over 40% of those given the CBD oil experienced half as many seizures. Five percent became completely seizure free.
Unfortunately, 93% of those given the CBD oil experienced adverse effects. The most common side effects were fever, fatigue, and vomiting. It’s worth noting that the patients continued to take their anti-epileptic medications during the trial.
Besides CBD oil, oral cannabis extracts, CBD with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and medical cannabis may also offer relief from seizures.
You can discover much more about THC in our article: What is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)?
The Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration compiled the results of various studies and trials to determine which options provided the best outcomes. While oral cannabis extracts, CBD with THC, and medical cannabis may offer relief, the TGA found a lack of evidence to support the use of these substances.
Additional research also suggests that CBD is a safer treatment compared to THC, due to the adverse effects of the psychoactive compound. In animal models, CBD offered a better anticonvulsant profile.
When reviewing older clinical trials, the results were less promising. Out of four trials between 1978 and 1990, only one trial provided positive outcomes for a small number of test patients. Keep in mind that these trials did not include baselines or lacked details.
While those older studies were inconclusive, more recent studies show a link between CBD and fewer seizures. In one study involving rats, researchers found that CBD was effective at reducing seizures and reversing epilepsy-induced cognitive deficits.
A recent survey also found that more physicians are prescribing CBD products for childhood epilepsy. Out of 155 physicians surveyed, 45% regularly prescribed CBD for epilepsy.
In June 2018, the United States FDA approved the first CBD medication. The approved medication treats two specific forms of epilepsy – Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. In clinical trials, patients given Epidiolex experienced a 30% to 63% reduction in seizures.
What Are the Best CBD Products for Seizures?
CBD comes in a variety of forms. You can find the compound in oils, creams, nasal sprays, pills, edibles, and vaping products.
Have a read of our article CBD Product Types to discover much more about CBD delivery types.
Each form of CBD has its own pros and cons. For example, the efficacy of each product varies due to the bioavailability of the CBD.
Products with a high bioavailability deliver more of the substance to the body. Researchers believe that transdermal or topical CBD products offer the most effective solution while oral CBD products may only provide up to 19% bioavailability.
CBD oil for epilepsy may not offer the highest bioavailability compared to topical creams. However, it may provide longer-lasting results.
Potential Side Effects of CBD for Epilepsy
AEDs contain many potential side effects. If CBD oil for epilepsy can provide a safer alternative, it should possess fewer side effects.
It seems that most CBD users experience no side effects or very limited side effects. Some of the non-serious side effects of CBD include:
- Dry mouth
- Red eyes
Besides the potential side effects, CBD may lead to negative drug interactions, including negative interactions with anti-epileptic drugs.
In one study, researchers found that CBD-enriched medical cannabis increased the severity of seizures in children suffering from the disease. However, medical cannabis also includes THC, so this may not apply to pure CBD.
A new clinical trial suggests that lowering the dosage of CBD may help reduce the risk of side effects while still offering the same positive results.
Patients given 20 mg of CBD daily were more likely to report adverse side effects. Lowering the dose to 10 mg per day provided the same reduction in seizures and fewer side effects.
Please refer to our article Potential Side Effects of Using CBD for more important information.
Can CBD oil for epilepsy help reduce seizures? The results are a little inconclusive. Early studies found no benefits to using CBD to treat epilepsy while more recent studies found that CBD helps reduce the frequency and severity of seizures.
Some of the earlier studies included CBD combined with THC or medical cannabis containing both THC and CBD compounds. The more recent trials and studies focused solely on CBD. Perhaps this means that pure CBD products are more effective at treating epileptic seizures.
The United States FDA also recently approved a CBD drug for treating epilepsy. In fact, it is the only CBD drug currently approved by the FDA.
As with the use of CBD for treating other diseases and health conditions, we still need more research to determine how effective CBD is for reducing seizures.
Image Credits: Brain by Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436. [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons