Cannabis has been used for millennia to treat many conditions. It has long been known that cannabis can help with pain, depression, and was even used in ancient China as an anesthetic for surgery.
It has also been recognized millennia ago as a potential treatment for epilepsy. However, it wasn’t until recently that we have had the scientific studies to back those beliefs up.
It all began with a girl named Charlotte Figi. Charlotte has a rare form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome. At just three months old, Charlotte had her first seizure. The seizure lasted half an hour. It only got worse from there; as Charlotte got older, the number and severity of her daily seizures increased. Some of the seizures lasted up to four hours.
By the time that Charlotte was two, she began showing signs of cognitive decline and displaying signs of autistic behavior. She had aggressive outbursts, would injure herself, and was reluctant to make eye contact. At one time, Charlotte was having up to three hundred grand mal seizures a week, despite being on heavy duty anti-seizure medications. At times, her heart stopped during the seizures. Charlotte’s parents and doctors eventually put her into a medically induced coma to allow her to recuperate. They even signed a do-not-resuscitate order in the event that something went horribly wrong.
Then, Charlotte’s grandfather started reading several success stories from parents who were using cannabis to treat their children’s seizures. Another boy with Dravet’s Syndrome and his story stood out. Charlotte’s doctors had said that they had done all they could. In desperation, her parents got a hold of some R4 cannabis extract oil for Charlotte. A miracle occurred. Charlotte went from 300 seizures a week to zero seizures during her first week of treatment. Seeing that the cannabis treatment was helping, Charlotte’s parents reached out to the Stanley Brothers, who run medical marijuana farms and dispensaries in Colorado. They created Charlotte’s Web, a hybrid strain of medical marijuana, which contained a 30:1 mixture of CBD to THC.
After Charlotte’s success story came a number of others. All from parents whose children were helped by Charlotte’s Web and other high-CBD cannabis treatments. Anecdotal stories are one thing, but is there scientific evidence? The answer to that is yes.
In 2016, Orrin Devinsky, a neurologist at New York University Langone Medical Center and colleagues across multiple research centers published the results from a study of a cannabis-based drug for treatment-resistant epilepsy in the journal Lancet Neurology. 162 patients were treated with an extract of 99% cannabidiol (CBD) and monitored them for 12 weeks. The treatment was given in conjunction with existing medications.
The results were more than promising. The treatment resulted in the reduction of motor seizures that was comparable to similar drugs. 2% of patients reported being seizure- free. The trial led by Devinsky was the most robust assessment of CBD’s effect on epilepsy. Unfortunately, these trials were open trials and had no controlled factors.
However, more recently, the Food and Drug Administration approved a highly purified oral preparation of CBD. In the open label expanded access programs as well as placebo-controlled trials, there was a significant improvement in seizure frequency when compared to the placebo patients with Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. The drug that has been approved by the FDA is the prescription medication known as Epidolex.
The results from the gold-standard studies of Epidolex were extremely promising. In the group receiving 20 mg of CBD twice daily, the occurrence of seizures dropped 41.9%. In those receiving the 10 mg dose, seizures dropped by 37.2%. In the placebo group, seizures dropped by 17.2%. Like with all other medications, even treatment with CBD oil has its side effects. For the most part, the side effects are well tolerated and only a few patients experienced side effects serious enough to stop taking the medication. The most commonly reported side effects were sedation, decreased appetite, and diarrhea.
When it comes to the legality of CBD treatments, especially those not approved by the FDA, there is good news. The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill hemp and hemp-derived substances are exempt from the Controlled Substances Act. This includes CBD oil, which can be purchased at places like TheAmsterdam. Even though it has been legalized, it is important that any parent or patient speak with their doctors before beginning any treatment.