How Does Cannabis Help Epilepsy? A Comprehensive Guide

Cannabis & Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a disorder that causes frequent seizures, which can make it difficult for patients to maintain a normal routine. Approximately one-third of epilepsy cases are treatment-resistant, which means that standard anti-seizure medications do not work to manage their symptoms. 

So, how does cannabis help epilepsy, and does it offer relief for those dealing with this challenging condition? Over the past few decades, cannabis has emerged as a potential treatment for patients struggling with seizures. Let’s take a look at the relationship between cannabis and epilepsy and how it can be used to manage seizures. 

Does Weed Help with Seizures?

For decades, scientific research on marijuana and seizures has been limited despite anecdotal evidence that cannabis products could be helpful for seizures in limited doses. Early studies used small sample sizes and didn’t produce meaningful results. 

However, research on cannabis and seizures has improved in recent years. There are now multiple studies that suggest that CBD could be beneficial for reducing the frequency of seizures for patients with epilepsy. CBD is one of many non-psychoactive compounds found in cannabis plants. 

One study focused on both children and adults with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, which is a severe form of epilepsy. This study found that CBD treatment reduced seizure frequency by approximately 42%, compared with a reduction of roughly 17% in the placebo group. 

Another study focused on patients with tuberous sclerosis produced similar results. CBD treatment reduced seizure frequency by approximately 49%. Tuberous sclerosis is a genetic condition that can cause severe epilepsy as a side effect. 

As research has improved, many medical providers are starting to use CBD for epilepsy treatment. This is often done in conjunction with more traditional anti-seizure medications and therapies. 

How Does Cannabis Help Epilepsy?

Cannabis plants can contain more than 100 active cannabinoid compounds, each of which can act on the body’s cannabinoid receptors in our central nervous system. Research indicates that some of these cannabinoids interact with these receptors in a way that could prevent seizures. 

Cannabinoids act on the CB1 and CB2 neurotransmitters within the central nervous system. This decreases the release of excitatory neurotransmitters, which in turn prevents seizures. In theory, many cannabinoids could act on the CB1 and CB2 transmitters in this way, but so far, CBD seems to be the most effective for limiting seizures. 

There is also evidence that CBD blocks neural signals from lysophosphatidylinositol or LPI. 

LPI is a molecule that lives within brain cells and amplifies nerve signals. However, in patients with epilepsy, this amplifying effect can make seizures worse. CBD limits these amplifying signals to prevent seizures from happening. 

CBD vs. Marijuana for Epilepsy 

Cannabis plants fall into two categories: marijuana and hemp. Marijuana is a type of cannabis plant that contains high levels of THC and low levels of CBD. Hemp has high levels of CBD and almost no THC. THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid that causes a “high” when ingested, while CBD is not psychoactive. 

Current research on marijuana and epilepsy indicates that CBD is much more effective than THC in preventing seizures. This is because CBD has a better-defined anti-convulsant profile than THC. The psychoactive effects of THC also appear to limit the potential anti-seizure effects that marijuana could have. 

Many patients wonder, “Can CBD cause seizures?” or if marijuana usage might lead to similar outcomes. Currently, there is no substantial scientific evidence to suggest that CBD contributes to the onset of seizures. In contrast, while there is a possibility that excessive marijuana consumption could induce seizures, particularly in young children, instances of seizures from cannabis use are exceedingly rare. This rarity is underscored by the limited and largely anecdotal nature of studies conducted on weed in seizure treatment, which have typically involved small participant groups.

Legality of Using Cannabis for Epilepsy

Throughout the majority of the 20th century, cannabis use was illegal in the United States. However, this has slowly changed since the mid-1990s, as many states have legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational use. 

Although marijuana is not legal at the federal level, epilepsy patients still have options for medical cannabis prescriptions. As of February 2024, marijuana is fully legal in 24 states and is legal for medical use in an additional 16 states. 

CBD products derived from hemp are legal at the federal level as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill. However, not all states regulate hemp-based CBD products, so they may not be suitable for medical treatment. 

Here are some of the legislative changes that have made marijuana and CBD for seizures more accessible. 

Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act

In December 2022, President Biden signed the Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act into law. This law makes it easier to conduct scientific research on cannabis. 

This law has also changed the way that doctors present cannabis treatment options to patients. For example, it allows physicians to discuss marijuana with patients, regardless of what state they are in. It also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate with the National Institutes of Health to report on the therapeutic potential of marijuana, thus raising awareness of it as a treatment option. 

Expanding Access through Medical Marijuana Legalization

Even if your state hasn’t legalized marijuana for recreational use, it may have a medical marijuana program to help you with epilepsy treatment. In addition to the 24 states where marijuana is fully legal, 16 additional states have legalized medical marijuana. For this reason, you can get a prescription for cannabis as part of your epilepsy treatment. 

Seven additional states, including Texas, also have programs that allow medical use of CBD-dominant products. In these states, epilepsy patients can get prescriptions for CBD oil for seizures, as well as a variety of other CBD products. However, you won’t have access to products with higher levels of THC. 

FDA-Approved Epidiolex

In 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures in those with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome, which are two rare forms of epilepsy. Epidiolex is the first federally approved drug to use CBD for seizures. It does not contain any THC and is not psychoactive. Doctors throughout the country can prescribe Epidiolex, making it an accessible cannabis-based treatment option for those with severe epilepsy.

How to Use Cannabis for Epilepsy

If you have epilepsy and aren’t responding to traditional anti-seizure medications, cannabis products could work as an alternative treatment option. This should be done with close guidance and supervision from your doctor. Here’s a step-by-step look at how to use cannabis for epilepsy.

Get a Medical Card

If you’re interested in using cannabis products to manage your seizures, the first step is to get a medical marijuana card. If you’re in a state where marijuana is not fully legalized, you’ll need a medical card to visit a dispensary and purchase cannabis products. 

Even if you live in a state where marijuana is legal for recreational use, you can still benefit from getting a medical marijuana card. With an MMID, you’ll have access to high-potency medical-grade cannabis products. You’ll also be able to buy marijuana in larger quantities and could even save money on your prescription. 

The process of getting a medical marijuana card varies from state to state. Typically, you’ll need to get a certification from a doctor stating that you have epilepsy (or another qualifying condition). Any medical doctor can complete this certification, which can usually be done online. Then, you must complete an application through your state’s online portal. Once your application has been approved, you’ll receive your medical marijuana card. 

Decide on a Strain 

Once you’ve received your medical card, the next step is to head to the dispensary and decide which products are right for you. Start by choosing the correct strain for your needs. 

As highlighted above, research indicates that CBD is the most effective cannabinoid for managing seizures. Look for a strain that is CBD-dominant, with minimal THC. CBD is not psychoactive, so you’ll be able to take it at any point in the day without worrying about feeling “high.” 

Many CBD products are derived from hemp, which does not contain any THC. However, if you opt for marijuana products instead, you’ll need to choose between indica, sativa, or hybrid strains. In general, indica and hybrid strains have higher CBD content than sativa strains. However, the exact composition varies between products, so you’ll want to check before purchasing. 

Dial in Your Dosage

Once you’ve found the right cannabis strain for you, the next step is to determine which dose is most appropriate for your needs. Successful studies on the use of CBD for seizures have used doses ranging anywhere from 5 to 50 milligrams, with most patients taking between 10 and 20 milligrams per dose.

The correct dose for you will vary depending on various factors, and it can take some trial and error to find what works for you. Consider starting with a smaller dose to see how your body reacts and working your way up to something more potent. This is particularly important if you’re using a product that contains both CBD and THC, as THC affects everyone differently. 

Talk to Your Doctor

Always talk to your doctor when using cannabis products for epilepsy. Your doctor can provide more personalized guidance based on your symptoms. They may even be able to recommend specific cannabis products. 

Your doctor will also make sure that the cannabis products you choose are a safe addition to your treatment plan. They will let you know about any possible interactions between cannabis and any other medications you’re taking and warn you of any possible side effects. This will help you make the most informed decision about your treatment plan. 

Medical Marijuana Cards from Texas 420 Doctors

If you’re struggling with epilepsy and are interested in getting a Texas medical marijuana card, Texas 420 Doctors is here to help. We connect patients with certified and qualified medical professionals for medical card sign-ups, renewals, and cannabis consultations. Book an appointment today to get started.

Contributed and published by: Texas 420 Doctors
Published Date: February 21, 2024

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