CBD and Seizures: How CBD Could Benefit Those With Epilepsy
Cannabis, marijuana, pot, weed – we know this plant by many names. There was a time when any of these words elicited a strong, hateful response from most of the population. However, in recent years, not only has it become more accepted, but one of its derivatives – cannabidiol (CBD) – might also be beneficial in helping with a lot of mental and physical health problems, epilepsy being one of them.
While everybody responds differently, using CBD oil for epilepsy appears to help a lot of patients. This is good news, considering that the disorder can be quite difficult to handle, even with prescription medications. While it’s no substitute for conventional treatment, this alternative makes a difference in a variety of cases. If you happen to have epilepsy and aren’t pleased with the results of your doctor’s normal solutions, it might be worth looking into the relationship between CBD oil and seizures.
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes people to experience chronic seizures. Some individuals only have them occasionally, while others experience them every day. The frequency could be so severe that living a normal life becomes tough. Fortunately, this only accounts for a small percentage of cases.
Some seizures affect the entire brain at once (generalized), while others only affect a specific area (partial). Generalized episodes are the most common, where patients either stare into space (petit mal/absence seizures) or go into full-blow convulsions (grand mal/convulsive seizures). Partial seizures, on the other hand, are focused, so a person could remain conscious while losing only certain functions, like vision or hearing.
Whichever the type, seizures are scary to watch, but they’re not inherently dangerous. The real risk stems from things like falling or hitting hard objects, like furniture or the floor. Drowning is also a risk, which is why doctors recommend that people with epilepsy avoid taking baths.
Most people who suffer from epilepsy can live normal lives. In fact, lots of notable figures have either been confirmed to have, or believed to have had, some form of epilepsy. A few of these include Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, Alexander the Great, James Madison, Theodore Roosevelt, Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Danny Glover, Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, Beethoven and even Hugo Weaving (a.k.a. “Agent Smith” from The Matrix). The point is: epilepsy won’t set you back or affect your intelligence.
What sets epilepsy apart from other disorders, however, is that no two cases are alike. This makes it a real headache to treat. Some people respond well to treatment, while others may not improve at all. For those who have only the occasional episode, epilepsy amounts to an inconvenience – albeit a strong one. But patients who have several convulsive or partial seizures a day can’t function well.
Most epilepsy cases have no known origin. They’re caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. More rarely, things like brain scarring, tumors, drug withdrawal, diseases (i.e. meningitis) or brain damage could cause people to develop epilepsy. But aside from surgery in some of these situations, there is no cure for epilepsy.
People with epilepsy often deal with some annoying assumptions. Specifically, there are two major misconceptions that need to be addressed.
First off, it’s widely believed that flashing lights trigger seizures. While this is true, they only affect 3% of epilepsy patients. The fact is that there’s an infinite number of potential triggers out there, and they all change on a case-by-case basis.
Second – and more dangerously – rumor has it that people experiencing a convulsive seizure are going to swallow their tongue. If you try to swallow your own tongue, you’ll find that it’s firmly attached to your mouth. In other words, the whole claim is just a load of nonsense. Unfortunately, this prompts people to put things in a victim’s mouth whey they’re having a seizure, which sometimes causes choking.
Honestly, we could go on and on about this, but what we really want to talk about is the exciting potential of CBD helping people with epilepsy.
What better way to learn about using CBD for epilepsy than through a first-hand example?
My Experience Using CBD for Epilepsy
As you may have guessed from my emphasis on famous people and rather strongly-worded denunciation of epilepsy myths, I happen to be one of the 1% of people who “suffers” from epilepsy. I use quotations because, as far as cases go, mine is pretty mild.
Going back to the flashing lights issue I mentioned earlier, it turns out that I don’t fall into that 3%. My seizures were apparently triggered by hyperventilation during exercise, as well as strong emotional states, like anxiety and excitement. Yes, being happy caused seizures for me, but fortunately they were only the short absence ones, not full-blown convulsions.
I was diagnosed at the age of eight. At the time, I only experienced the absence variety. This means that, several times a day, I’d stare blankly into space and lose awareness for a few seconds. As time went on, they got progressively shorter to the point where they barely lasted more than a second.
But at age 14, those hopes were crushed. I experienced my first convulsive seizure while outside on my lawn. Interestingly enough, these ones happened once a month, like clockwork. I started taking medication (lamotrigine) to control these, but my doctor decided to hold off on using medicine for my absence seizures, as these medications can do a number on developing children.
At age 20, I started on a second medication – a very common one called “valproic acid” – to get the absence seizures under control. I responded fairly well, and a year later I finally was able to obtain my driver’s license, as per the law in my province of Ontario.
I’m 33 now, and I’ve had to up the dose after a few episodes, one of which resulted in a one year medical suspension of my license. Unfortunately, the side effects of taking a higher amount of meds (specifically valproic acid) started making life difficult. I’d sometimes get nauseous and was almost always anxious and jittery. My hands would shake, making me clumsy.
About a year ago, I decided to research the relationship between CBD oil and seizures after hearing about its benefits. Needless to say, it proved to be a real life-saver.
How CBD Helped Me
Taking CBD oil for epilepsy was a real gamble on my part.
I want to just emphasize again that CBD isn’t a substitute for prescription treatment.
But in order to see if it would help me, I had to reduce my pill dosage a little bit. Since the side effects were likely due to my petit-mal medication, however, the worst thing that might happen was that I’d start blanking out again. To be safe, I decided to quit driving for a few weeks to see how things went. Initially, I smoked it with a vaporizer, but I found it uncomfortable. I still do from time to time if I want a quicker effect, but CBD oil became my primary source. The only difference was the time it would take to hit me.
The risk paid off. I was able to reduce my (apparently high) dosage of valproic acid by 250mg – a 25% reduction. Not only did my seizures stay controlled, but the anxiety, nausea, and tremors that made my life difficult virtually disappeared.
One thing I read was that, when ingesting cannabis oil or any other form of edible cannabis, was that it takes time to kick in. Taking too much has been known to make people excessively high, so I started small, as per my doctor’s advice. Initially, I took 0.2 milliliters, then eventually upped it to 0.4. Typically, I’d use it in the morning on an empty stomach to speed up absorption. I felt it within 30 to 45 minutes, give or take.
I’d also like to mention that I did try variations with THC, but the head high made me unable to function. CBD, on the other hand, was different. Just like what I read, CBD created a sort of “body high,” bringing relaxation and curbing nausea without the dopiness that we see in those cliché (but hilarious) Harold and Kumar movies. Based on my past experience with THC, I decided to avoid it and stick with products that were CBD dominant.
In the end, I was quite happy with the outcome and will continue to take CBD as long as I’m on medication – in other words, for the rest of my life.
Research on CBD for Epilepsy
My own anecdotal evidence might sound great, but it’s not conclusive. So let’s take a look at a more reliable source. According to a 2016 article in Scientific American, researchers used CBD on 162 epilepsy patients, in addition to conventional medication. According to the article:
The researchers reported the intervention reduced motor seizures at a rate similar to existing drugs (a median of 36.5 percent) and 2 percent of patients became completely seizure free. Additionally, 79 percent of patients reported adverse effects such as sleepiness, diarrhea and fatigue, although only 3 percent dropped out of the study due to adverse events.
Furthermore, Kevin Chapman, a pediatric neurology professor from the University of Colorado went on to say that, “I was a little surprised that the overall number of side effects was quite high but it seems like most of them were not enough that the patients had to come off the medication.” So even if there were side effects, they were preferable to the ones created by prescription medication.
In other words, results were mixed, but promising. True to epilepsy’s nature, each person’s outcome was radically different. Further research is needed to confirm whether most people with epilepsy would respond well to CBD. But it appears that it’s a viable option in extreme circumstances when all other avenues have failed.
How Does CBD Oil Work for Epilepsy?
Ah, the million dollar question. Ironically, nobody’s truly sure even how regular medications work when treating epilepsy; they just do. Theoretically, however, it’s that CBD has a calming effect on your nervous system.
Seizures occur when your brain goes into overdrive. Huge spikes in brain activity are what cause seizures. If CBD oil does directly help with seizures in some cases, then the oil’s ability to essentially chill out the brain is what stops this spike in activity.
In the end, using CBD oil for seizures is tricky territory. On the one hand, research definitely generates hope for those who suffer from severe epilepsy with no other recourse. The problem is that prohibition limits our ability to really give CBD – and cannabis in general – the attention it needs.
Hopefully, as cannabis becomes more widely accepted (and legal), we’ll have a chance to look into it on a larger scale and bring relief to the roughly 22 million people worldwide who deal with epilepsy.