Since the cannabis cannabinoid known as cannabidiol (CBD) made national news in 2013 for stopping the seizures of a young girl with Dravet syndrome, its place in the mainstream has only grown with time. Public interest in the natural compound has skyrocketed in less than a decade, and the body of scientific literature researching its therapeutic potential has more than tripled in size and quality.
Since 2013, a pharmaceutical-grade formulation of CBD known as Epidiolex has been approved to treat three disorders characterized by epileptic seizures: Dravet syndrome, tuberous sclerosis complex and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. However, sufferers of several other forms of epilepsy — along with more rare conditions like myoclonic and reflex epilepsy — still have to use conventional forms of anti-seizure medication.
While this isn’t likely to change anytime soon, a new observational study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has shown that CBD can reduce some adverse side effects associated with conventional anti-seizure drugs. Let’s go over two ways CBD can benefit individuals with epilepsy; not only in reducing symptoms of specific conditions, but in improving their overall quality of life as well.
Can CBD Reduce The Adverse Effects From Conventional Anti-Seizure Drugs?
First, it’s worth noting that July’s Johns Hopkins observational study was conducted sourcing participant-reported data from people using artisanal (i.e. non-pharmaceutical) products like cannabis concentrates, particularly CBD isolates. This was done in order to gain a better understanding of how these artisanal products impact the lives of patients using them as a form of self-medication or health supplementation.
According to the study’s findings, “comorbid psychiatric symptoms may improve with cannabinoids through mechanism(s) that may relate to direct effects of CBD and/or amelioration of unwanted side effects from concomitant antiepileptic medication.” It went on to conclude that “rationales for use by study participants in this study were consistent with these possible pathways insofar as some participants reported using CBD products alone for seizure control, some reported using CBD products as an adjunct to prescription medications to improve inadequate seizure control, and others reported using as an adjunct to prescription medications to reduce adverse effects of those medications.”
The study also found that aside from reducing the adverse effects of anti-seizure drugs, CBD also improves the overall health and quality of life in patients suffering from epilepsy. According to Ryan Vandrey, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, “the potential of CBD products for the treatment of seizure disorders goes beyond seizure control alone. In our study, we saw clinically significant improvements in anxiety, depression and sleep when patients with epilepsy initiated therapeutic use of artisanal CBD products.”
Is CBD Beneficial Against Seizures & Epilepsy in Itself?
Decades of research conducted on CBD shows that it can often be beneficial when treating seizures. In 1925, a US patent was awarded for “the use of cannabis compounds to treat muscle spasms and convulsions.” In the 1930s, it was reported in the Canadian Medical Association journal as an effective treatment for epilepsy. The study found that CBD reduces seizure activity and severity, as well as improving specific aspects of health like circadian rhythms, mood regulation and metabolic function.
In the 1970s, scientists found that CBD can alter fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) enzyme activity. FAAH action is critical in regulating the endocannabinoid system and therefore plays a role in many biological processes including pain sensation and neurotransmitter release. According to current CBD research, cannabinoids like CBD and their modulatory effect on FAAH can have a significant role to play in reducing seizure severity.
CBD has no observable adverse side effects, and it suppresses seizures in the majority of children with severe epilepsy. The anticonvulsant potency of CBD is superior to most currently prescribed antiepileptic drugs, including phenobarbital, carbamazepine, and valproic acid. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD has no psychoactive properties; it does not cause a “high” in users, making it particularly attractive as a medicine for pediatric applications.
Finally, it’s important to know that CBD’s anti-epileptic and spasmolytic properties make it feasible for use not only in adults and children with epilepsy, but pets as well. Ideal dosages vary by factors like breed, gender and weight, but are typically measured in milligrams per milliliter (mg/ml). Individuals considering the use of CBD as a means of self-medication or health supplementation should consult with their doctor or veterinarian to determine the correct dose ranges for their intended use case.