Epilepsy is a brain disorder characterized by unpredictable, recurring seizures. This disorder can be caused by brain injury, brain tumors, stroke or infection, but in most cases the cause is unknown. Most new cases are found in adolescents and seniors but this condition can happen to anyone at any time. Epilepsy exists on a spectrum, meaning there is a wide range in the severity of and types of seizures that can be experienced.
In some cases, epilepsy can be controlled by prescription medication. Sometimes patients are treated completely through this method. However, many cases of epilepsy are resistant to medication. There are also other treatments like a ketogenic diet, brain surgery, and brain stimulation, but now there is a new one. Let’s look at the types of epilepsy and how cannabis could help with treating seizures.
What types of seizures are there in the endocannabinoid system?
Seizures from epilepsy are believed to start within the body’s endocannabinoid system. Our bodies produce chemicals similar to those found in cannabis, which is why cannabis-based medication can be so effective. The types of seizures that can arise include:
Generalized seizures – this occurs when both sides of the brain misfire. This causes blackouts and spasms. And this can cause sensory and physical issues long term.
Tonic-Clonic seizures – these are also called grand mal seizures. When these seizures happen they are very noticeable. When a seizure happens, the body jerks, becomes stiff, and can even go unconscious.
Tonic seizures – this seizure happens most often in the arms, legs and trunk where they tense up completely. This is sometimes called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
Atonicseizures – this kind happens when the body goes limp, the head tilts forward, and the sufferer loses muscle control. Most times patients have to wear protective helmets to ensure safety from falls.
Myoclonic seizures start in the same area as atonic but create jerks as if the sufferers were shocked suddenly.
Absence or Petit seizures – People having these seizures stare blankly and do not respond when spoken to. Their eyes may roll into the back of their head for a few seconds.
Focal seizures cause patients to see and hear things that are not there. There are three types of these:
Focal seizures – these change how your senses respond to the rest of the world. How you taste or smell something strange can cause a reaction of shaking in the arms, fingers and legs.
Complex focal seizures – These affect motion and memory. They can cause you to cry, laugh or gag. You could even go totally unconscious and look like your awake. These can take minutes to get out of.
Secondary generalized focal seizures – These start on one part of the brain and spreads to the nerves on both sides. It can both convulsions and muscle slackness.
How Cannabis Helps
In 2011 the Stanley brothers grew a specific strain of marijuana that had high CBD and low THC, the two most well-known medicinal components of marijuana. It was theorized that this blend would decrease the number of seizures in epileptics. Although it has been shown to work, most of the trials have relied on anecdotal evidence or animal testing. More research is needed, but what we have is promising.
Seizures happen due to the presence of a chemical called GABA that affects our CB1 and CB2 receptors, which are part of our endocannabinoid system. Current anticonvulsant medications control the amount of GABA in the body or the sensitivity of these receptors. CBD oil or strains of marijuana with high CBD also affect these receptors to prevent excessive GABA from triggering a seizure. Sometimes a doctor will prescribe a mix of medications.
The use of THC-based strains for epilepsy remains to be studied, but there have been reports from patients who say that strains with a little bit of THC, like that strain that the Stanley brothers grew, increased the effectiveness of their other medications. However, there has been a lot of self-experimentation on the parts of cannabis users on which ratio of CBD to THC is the best for epilepsy treatment.
The strategy to improve efficacy in everyone is different. In my experience, a good starting point is 20:1 of CBD to THC, then self-experimenting from there. You can start with a very small dose, especially with biphasic epilepsy. Low CBD doses work well for this. If you would prefer not to smoke or vape, raw cannabis has also proven to deliver great results in long-term treatment. There is a component called THCA which is transformed into THC when heated. The THCA compound is also good for helping with epilepsy.
Epilepsy manifests itself in many different ways. If you want to use cannabis to treat your epilepsy, it’s good to work with your doctor first, especially if you are already on medication. Your drugs may need to be adjusted until you can find the right balance you need for relief from this condition.