Over the past few months, the news and social media have been buzzing about the use of medical marijuana as a treatment for seizures. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities of a new treatment, especially when traditional medicines haven’t worked or cause unwanted side effects. Yet, we also need to learn more about the drug and the type of research that has been done so far, as well as what research is still needed.
As you listen to the Hallway Conversation with Dr. Orrin Devinsky about marijuana and seizures, consider some of these issues. Then talk to your epilepsy provider for a frank discussion, just like you would do about any type of treatment. Don’t forget – when it is used to treat seizures it should be closely monitored for safety as well as effectiveness, just like any other treatment.
Some Issues to Consider:
- What types of studies have been done and what do they show? So far, no well-designed trial comparing marijuana to a placebo has been done with enough people to give consistent results.
- What types of marijuana (or part of the marijuana plant) seem to work for seizures? Are there any substances that could worsen seizures?
- How many people have benefited from this treatment, and how many have had more seizures?
- Does it work better for some people than others? For example, certain seizure types or specific age groups?
- What side effects have been seen? How likely are they to occur at the doses used for seizures?
- Have long-term side effects on cognition, mood or other health problems been seen?
- Is it safe to use in people of all ages?
- Is there a “best dose”?
- How is marijuana used as a medication for seizures?
- Can it be used “recreationally” or once in a while and could this use help seizures? Or does it need to be used on a daily basis?
- Is it known which form is safer and may work best? For example, a liquid, solid, pill, or inhaling.
- What precautions or monitoring are needed?
- Who could prescribe it?
- How would it be dosed?
- What does it cost? Is it covered by insurance?
- How would you get it? Right now it’s not legal in many states, and states where it is legal, federal regulations may prevent medical professionals from prescribing it.
- What other legal issues are there in using marijuana as a medical treatment for seizures?
These are just a few of the questions I think about whenever a new treatment comes along.
Become informed and learn as much as you can. It’s just as important to learn what we don’t know yet, as well as what is known. Advocate for more research on this treatment and others too! All people with epilepsy need more opportunities to be free of seizures without side effects!
Patty Osborne Shafer RN, MN
Associate Editor, Community Manager