As you probably know by now, cannabidiol (CBD) has been undergoing vigorous studies regarding its usefulness in treating the symptoms of epilepsy, with Epidiolex becoming the first CBD prescription drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, while these steps and studies into the efficacy of CBD on epilepsy are promising, and the anecdotal evidence is primarily positive, research is still ongoing. We need a lot more evidence before we can fully understand the effects of using CBD for epilepsy. However, if the positive reception and success of Epidiolex is anything to go by, the future looks bright.
Epilepsy: What is it, and what are the symptoms?
Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder where a sudden explosion of electrical activity in the brain causes seizures. A person has epilepsy if they have more than two seizures with no known causes. However, causes may be related to genetics or a previous brain injury. Epilepsy can start at any age, but usually begins in children and people over 60.
Symptoms of epilepsy may be mild or severe and include:
- Having a “fit” (uncontrollable jerking)
- Losing awareness
- Tingling feeling in limbs
- Altered senses
- Becoming unresponsive
After a seizure, many people don’t even remember having one. However, each person is different and symptoms, along with severity, vary.
What is medical cannabis?
According to the NHS, medical cannabis is “A broad term for any sort of cannabis-based medicine used to relieve symptoms.” Medical cannabis is finally legal in the UK and many other parts of the world. Specialist medical practitioners can prescribe medical cannabis for people suffering from conditions with symptoms that cannot be relieved by any other means. Unfortunately, very few people are likely to receive a prescription for medical cannabis, as it is currently only available to people that suffer from severe symptoms of the following conditions:
- Rare forms of epilepsy, such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
- Muscle stiffness from multiple sclerosis (MS).
- Nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy
Medical specialists only prescribe medical cannabis when other treatments are ineffective, and symptoms are severe. It is usually a last resort.
Studies on CBD oil for epilepsy
Most studies on whether CBD oil can help treat epilepsy focus on children with rare, typically severe epilepsy and who are already receiving treatment for it with a host of medications. Most of these studies show promising results and suggest that CBD may be an effective treatment for children with certain forms of epilepsy that are hard to treat with standard medication. So promising that the notoriously strict FDA approved Epidiolex, a prescription drug that contains CBD.
Epidiolex is used to treat symptoms of severe forms of epilepsy, such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, along with seizures that are caused by tuberous sclerosis complex. This ground-breaking drug comes in liquid form and is typically taken twice a day.
While Epidiolex is the only CBD drug that the FDA has approved, it’s still a massive step forward. It shows that the powers that be are noticing the benefits of CBD on conditions such as epilepsy.
Researchers measure how effective CBD oil is in treating epilepsy symptoms by looking at how many participants in studies have a 50% or more reduction in seizures. According to a recent study, 1 in 8 people taking CBD has a 50% or higher reduction in seizures, while 1 in 150 would have no more seizures at all. For people living with severe epilepsy that medication has little effect on, odds like these are encouraging. But how exactly does CBD help treat the symptoms of epilepsy?
While the exact reason CBD helps prevent seizures is unknown, it is believed that CBD can modify functions in the body, such as immune response and pain, that are regulated by the endocannabinoid system. It does this by interacting with GPR55 and TRPV1 receptors, leading to a reduction in neuron excitability.
A long road ahead
However, one thing that needs to be taken into consideration is that most studies use CBD as an add-on treatment for epilepsy, not as a sole treatment. This means that the participants in studies continue taking their regular prescribed medication for their epilepsy, along with the CBD. As such, we are unsure whether CBD will be as effective if used on its own.
In general, studies on CBD oil are still in their infancy, and much more research is needed, especially on humans. As mentioned above, most studies on CBD oil for epilepsy focus on children. Therefore, more research needs to be done on the effectiveness of CBD on adults and other forms of epilepsy, besides the severe ones previously mentioned.
How to get a prescription
Unfortunately, getting a prescription for medical cannabis is not that easy. If you don’t suffer from the previously mentioned severe forms of epilepsy, you are unlikely to be offered Epidiolex or any other form of medical cannabis.
Furthermore, you cannot simply get a prescription from your GP. It has to be from a specialist doctor who believes you qualify for it. The specialist will first discuss all other treatment options with you. They will only give you a prescription if they think it is in your best interest and if nothing else has worked for you so far. This only applies to a very small number of people, so if you don’t qualify, don’t ask your GP for a referral.
It’s not all bad news for those who can’t get a prescription, though. You might be able to access Epidiolex by partaking in clinical trials, although this is done at your own risk.
As more research is done on medical cannabis, these treatments will hopefully become more accessible to people with other forms of epilepsy that currently don’t qualify for an Epidiolex prescription.
Do not use CBD oil bought online or in health shops to treat epilepsy
It is important to keep in mind that CBD oil bought at health food shops or online are not medical cannabis. They are not licensed medicines, so companies selling these products cannot make any medical claims about their benefits. Moreover, you cannot be sure of the quality of these products. Many companies selling CBD products can lie about the contents and quality.
If you use CBD as a daily supplement to maintain your health, go with brands that have third-party lab-tested products. That way, you can be sure you are getting safe, high-quality CBD. But do not use these products as a substitute for medical treatment. Also, never start any supplement such as CBD before discussing it with your doctor. They’ll be able to tell you whether it is the right choice for you.
Conclusion on CBD oil for epilepsy
Research into the effectiveness of CBD for treating epilepsy is ongoing. Currently, CBD is deemed as an appropriate treatment only for severe, rare forms of epilepsy. While it is still early days, new studies show evidence that CBD could also effectively treat other forms of epilepsy. However, it is yet to be seen whether there are any grounds for this. It is clear, though, that the scientific and medical community is starting to take CBD seriously. With more research being done, there may very well be new medical cannabis products on the market soon.
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