CBD may have several therapeutic benefits, and one that is currently being heavily explored is the potential use of CBD for epilepsy.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is the main non-psychotropic cannabinoid found in cannabis. CBD does not activate the endocannabinoid system in the way THC does to create the sensation of a high. Instead, CBD seems to act on different types of receptors, such as vanilloid and serotonin receptors, to mediate a number of processes including inflammation, pain perception, and anxiety.
Currently, there are approximately 50 million people worldwide who have epilepsy, of which 1/3 have treatment-resistant epilepsy. This means that despite over 20 anti-epileptic drugs in existence, 1/3 of patients receiving treatment will continue to have seizures.
Therefore, there is a need for drug-resistance epilepsy treatment, especially for children since seizures can significantly and detrimentally affect the developing brain.
There are currently a number of clinical studies underway to investigate the use of CBD as a treatment for epilepsy. In one study, patients aged 1-30 years with childhood-onset, treatment-resistant epilepsy were given oral CBD each day for 12 weeks.
The researchers found CBD treatment resulted in a significant reduction in the number of seizures. In addition to seizures, patients report that epilepsy contributes to low self-esteem as well as memory and attention impairments, thereby affecting their quality of life.
Interestingly, patient-based questionnaires suggest that CBD for epilepsy treatment might also improve patients’ quality of life, independent of changes in seizure frequency. These findings suggest CBD might be a suitable therapy for multiple aspects of treatment-resistant epilepsy.
The exact mechanisms by which CBD reduces seizure frequency are unknown. One recent study investigated the effects of CBD on a mouse model of Dravet syndrome, which is a severe childhood disorder that is characterized by treatment-resistant epilepsy and premature death.
The researchers observed a dose-dependent reduction in seizure duration and severity with CBD treatment. The researchers also found that CBD binds to GPR55, a receptor that is highly expressed in neurons, to inhibit GPR55 activity. This results in a decrease in neuronal hyper-excitability in the brain, which reduces in the abnormal firing of neurons that causes seizures.
While these studies demonstrate the promise of CBD as an epilepsy treatment, there are some caveats to consider. First, a number of adverse side effects have been reported in patients treated with CBD. Second, since treatment-resistant epilepsy patients are often on some combination of anti-epileptic drugs, it is important to consider the potentially harmful interactions between those drugs and CBD. Third, one study suggests that THC can cause seizures. Therefore, while using CBD for epilepsy has shown to be effective, self-medicating with cannabis to treat seizures may not have the same therapeutic effects.