The medication was approved after several trials showed a significant reduction in seizures for people with these conditions (in combination with their existing anti-epilepsy drugs).
People have been using cannabis (also known as marijuana) to treat epilepsy for centuries. In the United States it only became legal to take marijuana products for medical reasons relatively recently. And, in 2018, a CBD oil for seizures called Epidiolex was approved by the FDA to treat certain epilepsy syndromes (CBD is a chemical found in cannabis plants).
CBD oil may help to stop seizures by activating certain cells called CB1 receptors. These cells are found in the nervous systems and in parts of the brain that are related to memory. Researchers are still not exactly sure how CBD affects seizures, but it may help protect brain cells against damage or from becoming ‘over excited’.
Epidiolex – a CBD oil for seizures
CBD can be extracted from marijuana plants and it is usually turned into an oil that you swallow.
In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of a new drug called Epidiolex for the treatment of two severe forms of epilepsy:
Cannabidiol – known as CBD – is a chemical found in cannabis plants and it is believed to help treat a number of conditions. It is different to THC, which is the chemical in marijuana that makes people feel ‘high’.
It is always positive to learn about a new treatment for epilepsy, and the potential benefits of CBD oil for seizures in adults and children are exciting. However, we are still learning about how CBD affects people with epilepsy, so until we know more it should not be seen as a replacement for standard treatments.
The reason that Billy’s cannabis oil was seized at Heathrow airport was that it didn’t just contain CBD, it also contained THC at higher levels than legally permitted.
So what do we know about cannabis oil and its effects on epilepsy seizures?
In [animal studies], THC has weak overall effects in reducing seizures and has also been shown to be a less effective anticonvulsant than CBD. THC, being a psychoactive substance, also has a number of side effects, including the well-known euphoric “high” associated with recreational use – which is a significant disincentive for the pharmaceutical industry to develop a medicine containing this compound.
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Home secretary, Sajid Javid, intervened in Billy Caldwell case and returned a bottle of cannabis oil. EPA/Andy Rain
Epilepsy drugs don’t work well, or at all, for about one-third of people with the condition. Unfortunately, these hard-to-treat epilepsies are associated with an increased risk of premature death.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabis oil may help some of these people control their seizures and potentially save their lives. A small number of studies have shown that adding cannabis oil to existing medication may be effective in devastating, hard-to-treat epilepsy in children and adolescents.
Far from being the stereotypical drug that makes a person want to eat snacks and watch television all day, cannabis contains chemicals that are able to work with the body to ease seizures. The two major components of cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Cannabis oil that contains very low amounts of THC or none at all is preferred for use as medicine. This oil can be made from both marijuana and hemp plants. Hemp strains often contain CBD without THC.
How Does Cannabis Oil Benefit?
THC is the component of cannabis that produces the characteristic euphoric state often referred to as a “high.” Cannabidiol does not produce psychoactive effects, but has been shown to promote positive effects in different parts of the body. Cannabidiol is the component in cannabis that is hypothesized to ease seizures in children.
Cannabis is the proper name for marijuana, a cousin of the hemp plant and one that has long been classified as an illegal substance. However, with many states now opting to legalize cannabis for medical use, research is being conducted on how it can be used to treat seizures in children with epilepsy.
There are many treatments for seizures in children, but not all children respond to one or more of them. Cannabis oil is a new and sometimes controversial treatment that is currently gaining ground as a natural and non-invasive way to keep seizures under control.