March 24th, 2015 – For parents of children with epilepsy the search for effective medical treatment is an everyday concern.
Children with severe cases of epilepsies suffer a compromised quality of life, with common symptoms such as stunted behavioral development, cognitive delays and frequent seizures. Many of these disorders are resistant to the traditional treatment of their selective conditions (Doose syndrome, Dravets syndrome, etc.), with most patients averaging up to 12 antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) before parents shift to more alternative treatments.
One emerging alternative is Cannabidiol (CBD), a compound derived from hemp. CBD was recently made famous by Sanjay Gupta’s 2013 portrayal of 3-year old Charlotte Figi in the documentary “Weed”.
As demonstrated in the documentary, CBD has many medicinal benefits without any psychoactive characteristics. Meanwhile, the scientific community is in the early stages of understanding the medicinal value of CBD in its relation to treating epilepsies. In a recent Stanford University study “Report of a parent survey of cannabidiol-enriched cannabis use in pediatric treatment-resistant epilepsy” positive changes were observed in mood, improved attentiveness and sleep in the children subjects using CBD.
The lack of conclusive scientific evidence on whether Cannabidiol is a suitable medicine for epilepsy perpetuates the reliance traditional pharmaceutical treatments, which appear to have many more drawbacks. In the Stanford report, CBDs were cited for only 3 out of the 16 possible negative side effects, including drowsiness, fatigue, and a decreased appetite. However the antiepileptic drugs cited across the board higher percentages of negative impacts for all 16side effects, some of which include aggressive behavior, nausea, fatigue, and a decreased appetite weight loss, and anxiety.
Another study from the United Kingdom by the University of Reading ran trials of CBDs effects, at various dosages, on rodent test subjects. The results “clearly extend previously published data from other in vivo models which point to CBD being of potential therapeutic use (alone or as an adjunct) in the treatment of epilepsies”.
Yet only one study from 1980 (Chronic administration of cannabidiol to healthy volunteers and epileptic patients), has explored the possible anticonvulsant properties of CBD in humans. The study found that half of the treatment-resistant patients using CBDs, combined with their current AEDs, were near seizure free and the others saw noteworthy improvement.
Although Cannabis has been used as a medicinal treatment for thousands of years, nevertheless we are still in the very early stages of cannabis medical research and scientific understanding due to a 70-plus year moratorium on research. And while there are a multitude of studies currently underway, there is still an absence of scientific clarity and evidence when it comes to the exact medical understanding of how Cannabidiol and other cannabis compounds actually work.
For some parents looking for help, especially in jurisdictions where CBD is not legally available, this lack of medical research forces a reliance on traditional pharmaceutical treatment for epilepsies and many other conditions. This can be a daunting prospect considering the negative side effects. For other parents, waiting for the research to arrive is untenable. Fortunately, the trend towards legalizing CBD for parents with epileptic is gathering steam across America as science races to catch up.