Can cannabis treat epilepsy?
It’s been known for a number of years now that cannabis is an anticonvulsant and evidence is continually emerging that supports this claim. CBD in particular is a cannabinoid that has shown efficacy in epilepsy treatment, and it is thought that full-spectrum oils containing small amounts of THC may have an even greater effect upon patients.
But before we look into the evidence, let’s take a closer look at the condition itself in more detail.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is an extremely common neurological condition affecting around 1 in every 103 people in the UK (who have a known diagnosis). A typical characteristic of this condition is repeated seizures caused by an excess amount of electrical activity within the brain. However, while this is a characteristic that typically occurs across all epileptic conditions, the impacts of epilepsy vary widely from person to person as different parts of the brain may be affected in each case.
Although it is believed that there are upwards of 40 different seizure types, there are three main types of seizure that are most frequently recognised in patients. These are seizures of unknown onset (where the part of the brain affected in unknown), generalised onset seizures (involving both sides of the brain) and focal onset seizures (involving a specific region in the brain).
What causes epilepsy?
Although around 65% of people with epilepsy don’t know what the cause of their condition is (meaning they have idiopathic epilepsy), there are a number of factors that may increase the likelihood of a person developing the condition, including:
- Infections like encephalitis or meningitis
- Trauma or injury to the brain that could have led to scarring
- Auto-immune disorders
- Brain tumours
- Hormonal or chemical imbalances
- Alzheimer’s or neurodegenerative diseases
It’s also believed that the development of some forms of epilepsy may involve genetics, either due to a genetic mutation or from an issue during the development of the cerebral cortex.
How can medical cannabis help?
As stated above, cannabis’ anticonvulsant properties have been known for a long time now, but evidence around the specific cannabinoids involved is continually emerging. From the evidence we do have so far, it’s believed that CBD has better antiepileptic potential than THC, however the exact mechanisms of CBD when treating epilepsy are currently unknown.
One study that suggests the efficacy of CBD in the treatment of epilepsy is the 2016 Barnes Report, which found that there was an increased drop in seizure frequency in a cannabidiol group when compared to that seen in the placebo group.
The efficacy of CBD for the treatment of some forms of epilepsy is apparently so clear that last year, NICE approved the use of Epidiolex on the NHS for the treatment of Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (very rare forms of childhood-onset epilepsy). Many were disappointed with this move however, as cannabis based products were not recommended for the treatment of epilepsy in general – just these specific and rare conditions.
However, while CBD’s potential for treating epilepsy has been noted in a number of studies, emerging evidence suggests that full extract oils (particularly those containing THC) might have an even greater effect on seizure reduction due to the theorised entourage effect, in which compounds of the cannabis plant interact with each other to become more effective than when used in isolation.
One study, a 20 week open label trial of 19 patients with Dravet syndrome where a full-spectrum treatment consisting of both CBD and THC was used, saw patients experience a seizure reduction of 47% alongside other noted improvements in their quality of life.
While scientific studies like this are obviously instrumental in highlighting cannabis’ effectiveness, high profile case studies have also crucially demonstrated the efficacy of medical cannabis in treating epilepsy in real-life contexts. For instance, the cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell have helped to bring about changes to the law in the UK, as other forms of medication typically taken to control seizures in these cases were ineffective, with medical cannabis giving the young boys relief leagues ahead of that felt with conventional forms of treatment.
While not as high profile, many patients across the UK have stories like those of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, and the testimony of fellow epileptic sufferers who have been helped by medical cannabis treatment is often enough to convince many others that medical cannabis treatment might be right for them following a lack of success with other, more conventional forms of treatment.
As medical cannabis treatment for epilepsy becomes more common at clinics like those run by The Medical Cannabis Clinics, these testimonies will also likely become more common, as patients realise first hand how medical cannabis can have life-changing effects when it comes to the treatment of their condition.
We only recommend taking cannabis-based products following a consultation with a medical professional, and do not advise patients on the recreational use of any cannabis-based products.
At The Medical Cannabis Clinics, our GMC registered specialists will identify the appropriate cannabis medicine care plan and products for patients following a comprehensive assessment which includes an in-depth evaluation of the main symptoms being targeted, current medications, pattern of symptoms and lifestyle factors such as safety-sensitive occupations.
They will also monitor and adjust the medication on a regular basis to ensure the best effect with the fewest side effects. There is also a carefully designed process in place to monitor patients’ well-being, with follow-up appointments after a week and then every month, for three months after receiving a prescription.
To book an appointment one of our specialist team click here.