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Cannabis and Seizures: Questions to Consider

Community Corner
Monday, March 13, 2017

Medical marijuana (also called cannabis) has been in the news a lot in the past 2 years. Anecdotal reports of its helpfulness in treating seizures has led to some controlled studies. This research is helping us learn more about its use and safety in epilepsy.

Do we know enough yet?

No, we don’t. Studies are going on to find out how helpful cannabis may be and in what types of epilepsy. Epilepsy.com’s new medical cannabis editor, Dr. Anup Patel, provides updated data from cannabidiol studies that have very promising results. Yet, most studies are being done in people with very difficult to control seizures, such as Lennox-Gastaut, Dravet, or tuberous sclerosis. We don’t yet have information about its use in people with other types of epilepsy, including focal or partial epilepsy or generalized epilepsy alone.

Is it safe?

I often hear people say, “It must be safe because it’s from a plant.” Guess what? Many medications start from plants! Cannabis is no different. Its safety needs to be tested just the way any other medicine is tested.

A couple of points worth noting:

  • There are different substances in cannabis, some that could worsen seizures and some that may help. The side effects of different strains or substances varies too.
  • It’s important to know what you are using or ingesting as different substances or strains could affect you differently. In addition, safety issues like the consistency of the cannabis product and whether it has been treated pesticides are important to consider too.
  • Our updated cannabis page by Dr. Patel shares findings from ongoing studies. Side effects and drug interactions seen so far are listed.

What should people do if they want to consider cannabis for epilepsy?

Here are my thoughts or a “to do” list for people considering cannabis.

  • Treat it as any option for treating seizures.
  • Talk to your health care team treating your epilepsy first! Cannabis is not a minor thing – treat it and your body with respect and know what and how to use it.
  • Ask questions and compare the pros and cons. What’s the chance it can help seizures versus the side effects, possible drug interactions, and chance it could worsen seizures?
  • Know the laws in your area and check out the Epilepsy Foundation’s information on cannabis and legal/advocacy issues.
  • When it’s used as part of a controlled clinical trial, a person will get a specific dose. If used as medical marijuana or on your own, you may or may not know what substance you are getting. Talk to the manufacturer or dispensary for instructions, but keep in mind these instructions probably have not been scientifically tested.
  • Keep track of your seizures, side effects, and any other health events. Record use of the cannabis or medical marijuana too, so this data can be looked at together. Use a written seizure diary or My Seizure Diary to help you keep track of all this.
  • Tell your epilepsy team or person treating your epilepsy about all substances you take. They may not be able to prescribe it or adjust doses, but may be able to help monitor it, especially if any drug interactions happen.

One More Point

Treating epilepsy needs to be individualized. This means that what works in one person doesn’t necessarily work on another person. I think sharing experiences with other people can be very helpful in many ways. Yet I think we should be careful not to cross the line between sharing experiences and telling people how and what to do with their medical care.

I think we are all excited to see progress on finding new therapies to treat epilepsy. As this information becomes available, visit epilepsy.com to learn more. Our research section is another place to check out what’s coming and being tested.

Our thanks to all the people who have or are participating in research on cannabis (and other potential treatments) and to the researchers and scientists devoted to this area.

With best wishes,

Patty Osborne Shafer, RN, MN

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The mission of the Epilepsy Foundation is to lead the fight to overcome the challenges of living with epilepsy and to accelerate therapies to stop seizures, find cures, and save lives.

 
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