As many as three million Americans experience epileptic seizures each year, a noteworthy portion of the population. Epileptic seizures happen when abnormal electrical activity occurs in the brain. The seizures that result can fall into categories, including:
- Grand Mal or Tonic/Clonic -- feature convulsions, collapse and sometimes loss of consciousness. This is the type most people imagine when they think of seizures.
- Tonic -- known for muscles suddenly stiffening and potentially remaining stiffened for a long time
- Clonic -- characterized by jerking motions outside of patient control
- Myoclonic -- a milder form of clonic seizures with more intermittent jerking motions
- Atonic -- recognizable in epilepsy patients who lose all muscle tone at the start of a seizure and essential become rag dolls for the duration of the seizure
- Absence -- identifiable as seizures that cause a short loss of consciousness absent of any other cause
Epilepsy sufferers may also experience seizures that are a mix of various types or are partial -- not as severe or as long-lasting. Epilepsy is a major disruptor of life, particularly when traditional medication fails to prevent or reduce the frequency of seizures. Seizures can lead to terrible injury or even death should they disrupt normal bodily function and activity during certain activities, including manual labor or driving a vehicle.
Hope on the Horizon
Medical cannabis may bring relief to epilepsy patients who have not been adequately treated by traditional medications or who suffer from intractable forms of seizures. In study results released for presentation at the 2015 American Academy of Neurology annual meeting, patients who took liquid forms of cannabidiol (CBD) marijuana experienced unprecedented improvement.
The study, conducted at NYU's Langone Medical Center, looked at patients suffering from the most severe forms of epilepsy, including Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Among study participants who completed the trial, more than 50 percent had reductions in seizure frequency.
Hope Already in Motion
In Colorado, cannabidiol forms of medical marijuana are already in use and helping many patients, particularly pediatric epilepsy patients. Known as "Charlotte's Web," a particular strain of cannabis capitalizes on the properties of the plant that help reduce seizure frequency. Charlotte's Web has a high concentration of the component called CBD, which does not result in psycho-activity when taken, making it safe for consumption by children. The Realm of Caring Foundation, the organization that grows and distributes this medication -- similar to the formulation used in the NYU study -- reports that up to 85 percent of patients experience seizure frequency reductions. It is worth noting that "Charlotte's Web" is currently only made available to patients who have very severe epilepsy.
Medical cannabis, like any other medicinal substance, may not be the right fit for every patient. It has shown, however, to have an amazing impact on epilepsy patients who have found no relief from other treatments.