But what does the science say? Is Medical Marijuana's reputation as an anti-epilepsy drug purely anecdotal, or is there any research behind it?
Slow Science, but Ample Anecdotes
The sad reality is that there just isn’t much science on the issue yet. The Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado sheds some light on this, noting that so far research has lagged behind anecdote—usually because of anti-drug laws at the federal level, which prohibit cannabis use even for clinical research purposes.
“In countries where medical use of marijuana is legal, a number of people with epilepsy report beneficial effects from using marijuana, including a decrease in seizure activity,” notes an article from the Foundation. “Those who promote the medical use of marijuana often include treatment of epilepsy in the long list of disorders for which marijuana is supposed to be helpful. In fact, multiple states now have laws allowing the prescription of marijuana for the treatment of epilepsy.”
The same article goes on to lament that there is “very little scientific literature” available to back up these claims—though that may change soon, thanks to one promising new study. Epilepsy and cannabinoids has actually been studied internationally at both the animal and human level, but the conflicting evidence is often a result of the the combination of cannabinoids or the single cannabinoid selected as part of the study.
New Study Explores Marijuana as Sound Treatment for Epilepsy
Indeed, TIME Magazine recently reported about a new study, just about to begin enrolling patients, that may finally lend some scientific credence to these claims of marijuana as a treatment for epilepsy.
“In what is believed to be the first study of its kind, researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus will study the genes of those with a kind of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome who have been treated with a strain of medical marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web” reports TIME. “The study will attempt to determine if specific genetic components can explain why some epilepsy patients see positive results from ingesting Charlotte’s Web, while others do not.”
Charlotte’s Web, which is produced in Colorado, is low in THC—the compound that gives marijuana its psychoactive effects—but high in CBD, believed to be the compound that wards off seizures in children. It’s generally administered as an oil, and is a common choice among doctors seeking treatments for epileptic children. Although the strain is known for being high in CBD and THC, it is important to note that unlike CBD only extractions or synthetic products, Charlotte's Web still contains the other naturally existing cannabinoids in cannabis. Although these cannabinoids exist in significantly smaller ratios compared to THC and CBD, some compliment or have their own medicinal qualities that may play a role in anecdotal evidence that shows more success with natural cannabis oils over pharmaceutical extractions.
Other known strains that parents have found effective in their epileptic children include AC/DC and Cannatonic.
Another item to note is that the anecdotal evidence for epileptic adults and high CBD strains is not as strong on the other hand. However, epileptic adults do report some success with quality Indicas that contain THC in more significant numbers as well as CBD. Patients can review strains that have been tagged with anti-seizure qualities on AllBud's Ailments Section.
While additional scientific research is needed—and while studies like this one are certainly promising—it is important to note that the anecdotal evidence itself is not insignificant. There are many parents willing to testify to marijuana as a major factor in their kids’ health and wellbeing, and their testimonies convey power. For just one example, read this story from 2013, about a young epileptic girl whose life was changed forever by the medicinal properties of—yes—Charlotte’s Web.
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Asher and Josie Mathes
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