Evidence for Cannabis and Cannabinoids for Epilepsy

December 17, 2019Doctors, Patients

Preclinical studies seem to suggest that naturally occurring cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) exhibit the ability to control seizure activity both in vitro and in vivo. It’s been proposed that CBD products may be used in tandem with traditional anti-epileptic drugs to reduce or even control epilepsy.

An evidence review study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry focused on a series of 35 different experimental and epidemiological studies aimed at examining using cannabinoids to treat epilepsy. Studies included randomised controlled trials, non-random controlled trials, self-report surveys, and case reports, among others. Studies seemed to agree that patients saw a 50%+ seizure reduction, complete seizure freedom, and/or improved quality of life when pharmaceutical-grade CBD was used in conjunction with anti-epileptic therapies.

That’s good news for patients who suffer from drug-resistant epilepsy - seizures that remain uncontrolled using a combination of anti-seizure medications. To them having effective alternative and adjunctive therapies could mean a big difference in quality of life.

Nineteen different studies that were looking for a 50% reduction in seizure frequency reported that CBD was more likely to report a seizure reduction of at least that in comparison to study participants that were given a placebo. At the same time, surveys and case reports also detail similar findings. Seventeen of the reports analysed reported on patients that were seizure free during the course of treatment, finding that approximately 7% of patients remained without any seizure activity through the course of the trials.

To those dealing with seizure disorders, quality of life is often as big or even bigger concern than control of seizures. Patients on common anti-seizure medications typically deal with side effects that could have a negative impact on their lives. Caregivers of those taking CBD noted improvement in mood, social skills, cognitive skills, behaviour, alertness/attention, speech and language, sleep, appetite and motor skills and reductions in self-stimulation.

Across all studies, there was an increase in risk of adverse events noted in correlation with patients taking CBD. Those included drowsiness, diarrhoea, fatigue, changes in appetite, ad ataxia.

The mean age across all study participants was approximately 16 years old, and many of the study participants had rare and serious forms of drug-resistant epilepsy. Further randomised controlled trials of a broader patient age group and diagnosis can give a better window for further assessing the benefits and risks of using cannabinoid products to control epilepsy.