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Epilepsy Awareness Month: How Is Marijuana an Effective Treatment for Epilepsy?


Each November is Epilepsy Awareness Month, and this year the Epilepsy Foundation wants people suffering from epilepsy to aim for zero seizures. That is easier said than done, though. Epilepsy is a complicated disease, and each person requires a different treatment plan to reduce their seizures and live the fullest life possible.

One treatment that is beginning to gain popularity among epilepsy sufferers is medical marijuana. Even though marijuana is still illegal in some form in half of the country, research and personal anecdotes increasingly suggest that it is an effective treatment for epilepsy.

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes chronic and unpredictable seizures in people of all ages. It estimated that three million Americans suffer from the disorder, and that 1 in 26 Americans will develop it at some point in their lifetime, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

The seizure disorder affects each person differently, and the severity of their condition depends on the frequency and intensity of their seizures. Some people can live a relatively normal life with epilepsy, while others are completely debilitated by the number of seizures they have. People with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome are among the later group.

How Is Epilepsy Treated?

The goal for treating epilepsy is to get rid of the person’s seizures with no side effects. Currently the best way to do that is through sedative and anticonvulsant medications, but conventional therapies do not work for an estimated 30 percent of people with epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

For that 30 percent, living a life with random seizures prohibits them from doing everyday activities like driving or taking a shower, which can become dangerous when a seizure occurs. To combat their condition, many of these people and others dissatisfied with conventional therapies have turned to marijuana as a last ditch effort to reclaim their lives.

How Does Medical Marijuana Help Epilepsy?

Unlike a condition that can be improved through smoking marijuana and getting the euphoric high that comes from inhaling THC, epilepsy is affected by the plant’s non-euphoric properties. Cannabidiol, or CBD has been shown in small studies to reduce the number of seizures in some patients. While this is encouraging news, there haven’t been enough studies to definitively say what affect CBD could have on epilepsy.

Because marijuana is classified as a Schedule One drug by the federal government, it is very difficult to do the necessary research to fully understand the relationship between CBD and epilepsy.

Yet, in spite of this, individuals desperate for a cure have taken a chance, and treated themselves and their loved ones suffering from epilepsy with CBD oil.

Charlotte’s Web

The effects of medical marijuana are varied, but some people have shown a major improvement, the most famous example being a little girl named Charlotte. The best known medical marijuana treatment for epilepsy is a CBD oil produced in Colorado known as Charlotte’s Web. The special strain of marijuana is grown and turned into a very low (0.3 percent) in THC, and very high in CBD oil that can be ingested.

The first person to be successfully treated by the oil was a little girl named Charlotte Figi, who suffered from Dravet syndrome. Before starting with the CBD oil, Charlotte was having a seizure every 30 minutes. Today, Charlotte experiences about two seizures a month, and although she does not speak, she can walk, ride a bike, and goes to school, according to her mother.

Unfortunately, this treatment is not as effective for everyone with epilepsy. More research must be done to refine the oil so it can help more people.

A recent study of 107 children taking Charlotte’s Web reported that 60 percent achieved at least a 50 percent reduction in seizures and 10 percent became seizure-free. While these, and similar studies into the effectiveness of CBD’s ability to treat epilepsy have reached promising conclusions, none have been large enough to declare it an effective treatment for everyone.

Still, the effects of marijuana on people with epilepsy are undeniable, and more research should be done into its effectiveness. But since marijuana is still a Schedule One drug, meaning it has no accepted medical use in eye of the federal government, studying the effectiveness of its treatment of epilepsy and other conditions is difficult.

Fortunately, there is something people can do to help.

If you live in Florida, or one of the other eight states voting on some form marijuana legislation next week, get out and vote.

Amendment 2 in Florida and similar initiatives in other states want to see medical marijuana become a regulated industry and medical solution for millions of people around the country who could benefit from it. If you would like to see that as well, go vote Yes on 2 in Florida — or whatever the medical marijuana initiative is called in your state — next Tuesday on Election Day.