Read below to find out what medical research says about MMJ, epilepsy, and seizures. 

  • Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder in the world. 
  • People with epilepsy have surges of electrical activity in their brains that can cause recurring seizures. 
  • Epilepsy is a chronic non-communicable disease that affects people of all ages.
  • Around fifty million people worldwide have epilepsy.
  • Approximately eighty percent of people with epilepsy live in low- and middle-income countries.
  • An estimated seventy percent of people with epilepsy could live seizure-free if diagnosed and treated.
  • The risk of premature death in people with epilepsy is three times higher.
  • In several parts of the world, people with epilepsy suffer from stigma and discrimination.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a chronic brain disorder that causes recurring seizures. You may be diagnosed with epilepsy if you have two unprovoked attacks or one unprovoked seizure, but not all episodes result from epilepsy. Seizures may relate to a brain injury or genetic trait, but the cause is often unknown. 

What is a seizure?

Seizures are surges of abnormal and excessive electrical activity in your brain and can change your appearance or actions. They can cause significant harm to the body if they occur at the wrong place or time. 

What are the symptoms?

Characteristics of seizures vary and depend on where it starts and how far it spreads within the brain. During the episode, temporary symptoms include loss of awareness or consciousness and disorders of movement, senses, mood, or other cognitive functions.

The risk of premature death in people with epilepsy is three times higher than in the general population, and those living with it tend to develop anxiety and depression. A significant proportion of the causes of death related to epilepsy are preventable, such as falls, drowning, burns, and prolonged seizures.

Seizure Triggers

Some typical seizure triggers include:

  • A specific time of day or night
  • Sleep deprivation 
  • Illness with or without fever
  • Flashing bright lights or patterns
  • Alcohol use or withdrawal
  • Recreational or Prescription Drug use 
  • Chronic Stress
  • Menstrual cycle or other hormonal changes
  • dehydration
  • low blood sugar
  • vitamins and mineral deficiencies
  • Excessive caffeine consumption

Epilepsy Risk Factors

A few of the primary risk factors for developing epilepsy include: 

  • Premature birth or low birth weight
  • Trauma during birth 
  • Abnormal brain structures
  • Brain bleeding
  • Abnormal blood vessels in the brain
  • Severe brain injury or lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Brain tumors
  • Brain Infections
  • Stroke resulting from blockage of arteries
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Mental disabilities
  • Seizures occurring after head injury
  • Family history of epilepsy
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Fever-related seizures
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

Types of Seizures

Typically, seizures are two basic categories: primary generalized and partial. Primary generalized seizures begin with a widespread electrical discharge involving both sides of the brain. Partial seizures begin with an electrical release in one limited area of the brain.

Primary generalized epilepsy occurs when the seizures simultaneously begin from both sides of the brain. Partial generalized epilepsy is more likely to involve genetic factors than partial epilepsy. Most partial seizures are related to head injury, brain infection, stroke, or tumor, but the exact cause is unknown. 

Epilepsy is typically diagnosed after a person experiences two or more seizures that are not directly associated with a head injury or known cause. Although seizures start and occur in the brain, other organs can be damaged or injured. The condition is graded on a scale, and one diagnosis does not fit all people. 

The three major groups of seizures are :

  • Generalized Onset: These seizures can simultaneously affect both sides of the brain and are the largest group of seizure types.
  • Focal Onset: Focal onset, or partial onset, are seizures that start in one area of the brain and only happen on one side of the brain.
  • Unknown Onset: In unknown onset seizures, it is unknown where the episode begins.

Treatment & Prevention

Seizures can be controlled, and approximately seventy percent of people with epilepsy could become seizure-free with medicines. Doctors may treat epilepsy with antiepileptic medications, diet therapy, and surgery. The treatments are highly effective and control seizures in most patients, though it is not a cure. The drugs reduce the tendency of brain cells to send excessive electrical signals. The choice of medicines depends on various factors, including the type of seizure or epilepsy, side effects of the medication, medical history, potential drug interactions, age, gender, and drug cost.

Diet therapy may be used in some patients with specific forms of epilepsy. The typical diets are the ketogenic and the modified Atkins diet. The ketogenic diet is a particular high-fat, adequate-protein, and low-carbohydrate diet initiated in the hospital. The modified Atkins diet is similar to the ketogenic but less restrictive and can be started as an outpatient.

Surgery typically provides complete control of seizures in medically resistant patients. However, not all patients with epilepsy are suitable candidates for surgery. For example, the epileptic region should be in a part of the brain that is unlikely to result in major neurological complications. 

Can medical marijuana help?

Medical marijuana has been shown to help patients with epilepsy relieve and control the symptoms accompanying this brain condition. Cannabidiol CBD is commonly used for various therapeutic benefits, from digestive aids to helping calm mental disorder symptoms. CBD’s benefits have been shown to have positive effects in regulating seizures. The FDA has approved CBD as a prescription-strength (Epidiolex) medication used for certain forms of epilepsy. 

The FDA approved a prescription-strength dose of CBD for severe epilepsy, Epidiolex oral solution, from G.W. Pharmaceuticals. Preclinical evidence proves that CBD oil can treat symptoms and reduce seizures by activating the CB1 receptors. More research is currently being done on CBD oil for conditions like dravet syndrome and Lennox gastaut syndrome.

Cannabis and hemp have been used historically for pain management for long-term pain sufferers and those with diseases such as cancer to manage the symptoms after chemotherapy. CBD is non-intoxicating and has been shown in some cases to counteract the impact THC, and other stimulants like alcohol may have on the body. 

Last Updated: June 14, 2024

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