How CBD Can Treat Some Types Of Epilepsy

Epilepsy affects 3.4 million people in the United States alone. According to The Epilepsy Foundation, 1 in 26 people in the U.S. will develop epilepsy over the course of their life. The CDC defines epilepsy as a disorder of the brain that causes seizures, where seizures are not induced by other temporary underlying medical conditions. Epilepsy can look different depending on the person, ranging from grand mal seizures, where the person collapses and shakes, to absent seizures, where the person experiences a staring spell and is unaware of their surroundings (via CDC). Epilepsy Action Australia claims that the cause of epilepsy remains unknown for 50% of people diagnosed. These statistics can seem disheartening, but it has motivated health professionals to learn more about this disorder and work towards finding a cure.

While this disorder remains largely misunderstood, people experiencing seizures have long been looking for ways to improve their quality of life as they learn to live with their epilepsy. One of the newest treatments recommended for some people with epilepsy is CBD — a chemical found in marijuana, per Mayo Clinic. CBD won't get you high, but it can be extracted and turned into oils, vaporized liquid, cooking, and beauty products — and is now an ingredient in some anti-seizure medications. According to WebMD, cannabidiol (Epidiolex), the first drug containing CBD, was approved by the FDA in 2018 to treat two different kinds of epilepsy — Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

Treating Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome with CBD

Epidiolex is currently the only FDA-approved drug that contains CBD and is approved for patients ages two and up that are diagnosed with Dravet syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. According to WebMD, "Studies showed [Epidiolex] was effective in comparison to a placebo in reducing the frequency of seizures."

Dravet syndrome is genetic epilepsy that causes temperature-sensitive/febrile seizures, affecting a child's development in the first year of life, and can cause developmental delays once symptoms are shown (via Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania). Along with dietary therapy, nerve stimulation, and counseling, Epidiolex has proven effective in reducing seizures in children with Dravet syndrome, who can have between one and two seizures per day that last longer than 10 minutes, according to the Dravet Syndrome Foundation.

Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is a type of epilepsy that is characterized by patients experiencing tonic, atonic, and atypical absence seizures, that cause patients to stiffen, lose consciousness, and stare, sometimes followed by sudden muscle twitches. According to Cedars-Sinai, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is most common in children ages two to seven, who have a particular brain wave pattern that causes their many types of seizures. Based on a study by The New England Journal of Medicine, cannabidiol, the CBD extract, has also proven to be an effective addition to medications for reducing seizures in children with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

Risk factors and side effects

This is an exciting development for many who suffer from these two syndromes, and for those with other seizure disorders that could possibly lead to similar results. It is important to note, however, that Epidiolex is currently the only FDA-approved product that contains CBD. Other products that claim to contain CBD may be misleading about their dosage and contents, and the FDA warns that it is "currently illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement."

It is also important to take into consideration the possible side effects of Epidiolex when deciding if it is right for you. According to the FDA report on Epidiolex, the most common side effects include drowsiness, decreased appetite, diarrhea, fatigue, malaise, asthenia, rashes, insomnia, and infections. About 10% of patients experience these symptoms which can be debilitating for those living with epilepsy.

Just like any other medication, CBD, even in a controlled drug like Epidiolex, is not the end-all-be-all for those diagnosed with Dravet syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. But it is a step in the right direction and has led to many people finding relief, even temporarily, from their epilepsy and seizure disorders. While a cure remains unknown, people with epilepsy can still lead full, happy lives with a combination of a healthy lifestyle and medications. 

If you are considering using CBD to treat epilepsy, consult a medical professional.