There has been a surge in interest in the medical uses of cannabis recently. In the past, research on medical marijuana and other cannabinoid-containing products was difficult due to the illegal nature of cannabis.
In Canada, cannabis for medicinal purposes has been legal since 2001. Until recently, however, there were relatively few medical marijuana patients across the country. Even today, many medical professionals are resistant to the idea cannabis could be a legitimate, effective treatment for a condition.
As social attitudes begin to change and more anecdotal evidence emerges, researchers are becoming curious about what cannabis can and can’t do in the medical field. As a result, more research is being conducted than ever before.
One field of study currently under intensive investigation is the treatment of epilepsy.
The History of Cannabinoids and Epilepsy
Many ancient cultures used cannabis both as a medicine and as a sacred substance. It has been noted throughout human history for its anti-convulsant properties. This led some people to wonder if cannabinoids may have a place in the treatment of seizures.
Interest has been particularly high in cannabis and cannabinoids as a potential treatment for difficult-to-treat forms of epilepsy, such as Dravet syndrome. This is a rare form of epilepsy that usually affects children and is usually very difficult to control. Children with Dravet syndrome often need specialized diets and other treatments, in addition to medications. Even this may not fully control their seizures.
Many anecdotal reports of parents managing their children’s conditions with cannabinoids have emerged over the years. This sparked interest in the medical field. Researchers have since undertaken more controlled research studies in an attempt to determine what effects, if any, cannabinoids have on epilepsy and seizures more generally.
Three Recent Studies
High-quality evidence emerged at the end of 2017 after years of research. Although several studies have been completed over the years, 2017 saw the publication of three independent controlled studies. In each study, a control group was given a placebo, while the study group was given a purified CBD product.
All three studies seemed to reach similar conclusions, with the CBD product reducing the number of seizures in the experimental group compared to the placebo-only control group. From this, it’s evident CBD performs better than nothing or the placebo effect in assisting with the management of epilepsy.
Although these studies suggest CBD does have some effect on controlling seizures in epileptic patients, the researchers were unable to verify if this was an effect of CBD itself or if there was another underlying factor. For example, it was noted all of the patients were being medicated for their epilepsy. They continued to take their medication during the study. It’s possible the improved outcomes of the experimental group were due to some interaction of CBD with the medications they were already taking.
Additional studies are needed to verify the effects of CBD itself in epileptic patients. Additional studies should look at whether CBD has similar effects on patients taking different medications and on groups of unmedicated patients. If all three groups were to perform about the same, it may indicate CBD acts alone. If one group performs better than the others, it could indicate CBD can assist in treatment with particular medications.
Can Medical Cannabis Treat Epilepsy?
Although good quality evidence is finally available for the first time, it’s impossible to say medical cannabis on its own treats epilepsy. Further research is needed.
At this point, it seems CBD products could be helpful in some cases of epilepsy. It may be helpful as an additional aspect of treatment for children with particularly treatment-resistant forms of epilepsy.
Research in this area will continue, and more exciting discoveries will no doubt be made. Someday, medical cannabis may be an essential part of treatment for particular kinds of epilepsy.