Epileptic seizures -- commonly referred to simply as seizures -- have plagued mankind since the beginning of time. Seizures are caused by an excessive or abnormal amount of brain activity. Common characteristics of a seizure include involuntary muscle movement and changes in consciousness. Some people might never have a seizure or experience only one or two throughout their lifetime; these isolated seizures may be caused by situations such as sleep deprivation, concussions, fevers, alcohol withdrawal. Other people, however, may have various brain diseases collectively known as epilepsy that cause frequent seizures.
Epilepsy can lead to continuous seizures that require emergency intervention; this is known as status epilepticus. Status epilepticus commonly leads to poor coordination, loss of bodily functions, memory loss, and learning impairment.
While epilepsy and other certain brain diseases that cause seizures cannot be cured, seizures can be prevented and minimized. The popularization of medical cannabis has sparked the interest of epileptics and their loved ones looking for effective ways to manage seizures.
Cannabis has been used by physicians to treat a variety of illnesses for thousands of years. There is evidence of medical marijuana being administered in ancient Egypt and China. It was first used in North America during the 19th century for the treatment of convulsions, nerve pain, and other conditions involving the brain and nervous system.
Reported success of cannabis use for neurological conditions has continued into the 21st century. While these anecdotes have existed for centuries, laboratory studies now show that cannabinoids positively affect the epileptic brain.
Cannabinoids are the elements in medical marijuana that affect the nervous system. The primary cannabinoids used in medical marijuana are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC produces a psychoactive “high” in users while CBD is responsible for decreasing sensations of anxiety and distress. Research in 2011 showed that when cannabinoids — particularly CBD — are added to a traditional seizure medication regimen, the frequency of seizures in both adults and children decreases dramatically compared to groups of adults and children who were given placebos in lieu of medical marijuana. This same study also ensured that the researchers along with the participants were unaware of which group was administered placebo treatment and which group received medical cannabis until the end of the study.
It is important to remember that the long-lasting effects of medical marijuana on epilepsy and other brain diseases cannot as of yet be determined. Also, all clinical trials of medical marijuana for seizures have included traditional seizure medications as well. With this in mind, the possibilities for treating seizures and other neurological disorders with medical marijuana are vast and exciting.