By: Perry Coleman
The use of marijuana to treat various forms of epilepsy is gaining interest among doctors and scientists as more people take matters into their own hands to find overlooked remedies like medical cannabis. Many think that federal laws that classify of marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no medicinal benefit is what’s preventing more widespread use and study. Well it is, but not for the reasons you may think.
The compound found in the cannabis plant that seems to offer promise to epilepsy sufferers can be legally purchased and consumed in the United States: Cannabidiol (CBD), which is derived from the hemp plant’s seed and stalk, is being identified by researchers and in the mainstream media as the component in cannabis that provides life-changing improvements for epilepsy sufferers.
So, access is really not the primary problem anymore, but medical research still continues to be stifled by the government’s classification of marijuana and hemp as the same plant. With the lack of research and approved treatments by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a majority of doctors and other health care professionals are reluctant to recommend treatments using the compounds found in the cannabis plant—whether from hemp or marijuana. They see these medical recommendations as outside of the legal and ethical scope of care that they can offer their patients.
But families, especially those with small children who suffer from various forms of epilepsy, are tired of waiting for the medical community to provide better alternatives to dangerous and often ineffective anti-epileptic drugs. Some forms of childhood epilepsy can be extremely debilitating and families know all too well that time may not be a luxury that they have when battling this disease:
Wikipedia describes Lennox-Gastaut syndrome as “a difficult-to-treat form of childhood-onset epilepsy that most often appears between the second and sixth year of life, and is characterized by frequent seizures and different seizure types; it is often accompanied by developmental delay and psychological and behavioral problems.” Citation 1
Then there is Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy of Infancy (SMEI) or Dravet syndrome, described on the Dravet Syndrome Foundation website as “a rare and catastrophic form of intractable epilepsy that begins in infancy. Initial seizures are most often prolonged events and in the second year of life other seizure types begin to emerge. Development remains on track initially, with plateaus and a progressive decline typically beginning in the second year of life.” Citation 2
Dravet syndrome can be fatal. Back in December, Kyung Lah featured six-year old Jayden David in her CNN report, “Medical marijuana helps stem 6-year-old’s seizures.” The article described how young Jayden was taking 22 prescribed “anti-seizure pills a day.” These medications, known as antiepileptic drugs (AEDs), have side effects that can be extremely incapacitating and even dangerous to children.
Jayden’s father, Jason–who had even contemplated suicide to end having to watch his son suffer—gave Jayden a form of marijuana as a last resort. To his amazement, Jayden experienced his first full day without a seizure since he was 4 months old. Jayden is currently being given a form of marijuana that is primarily composed of CBD, a component of the cannabis plant, which has no psychoactive effects such as the “high” associated with THC. (THC is the substance that produces the euphoric effects commonly associated with marijuana.)
Then there is two-year-old Vivian Wilson, who also suffers from Dravet syndrome and has had seizures lasting up to 40 minutes. A website was set up to petition New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to sign a bill that would ensure safe access for “afflicted minors.” The site states that “the rescue medicines used to stop these seizures can, and have, caused Vivian to stop breathing. Additionally, pharmaceuticals used to prevent Vivian’s seizures are highly addictive and have a complex list of side effects, including developmental impairment.” Citation 3
The site mentions that Vivian received her medical marijuana card in February of 2013, but hasn’t received any medication because of “New Jersey’s overreaching and unsafe restrictions.”
But awareness is spreading, and some children are receiving cannabis medication. Seven-year-old Regan Engelhardt and fourteen-year-old Cooper Brown are receiving medical cannabis and showing significant improvements according to the article “Children Are Using Medical Cannabis, And That’s A Good Thing” by Steve Elliott.
In the article, Regan’s mother Suzie said that pharmaceutical medications left her daughter “’like a zombie’ and did not properly control seizures” and “after experimenting with different strains and CBD ratios, Regan Engelhardt’s daily seizure frequency fell from 50 seizures per night down to five.” Citation 4 The article also offers that while Cooper still has seizures, they are less frequent and much less severe since beginning a medical cannabis regimen.
It’s time for the government to support more research on medical cannabis and remove barriers to access for patients in need. While products that contain CBD are available on the market today, they can’t be targeted or marketed to treat specific ailment unless approved by the FDA.
But pioneering companies such as Medical Marijuana, Inc’s (MJNA), PhytoSPHERE Systems and its intellectual property holder, CannaVest Corp (OTC: CANV), are conducting research and are improving the quality and standardization of hemp-based CBD.
Two of their popular products available now are CanChew Gum and Real Scientific Hemp Oil (RSHO). These products come in high-quality packaging that provide convenient, measured delivery of CBD—without the “high” that is a cause of concern for parents, and might keep them from seeing if CBD is effective for their child’s epilepsy. These hemp-based CBD products also come with a Certificate of Analysis to verify CBD concentration. Most importantly of all, because their CBD products are derived from non-psychoactive hemp, both CanChew and RSHO are legal to purchase and consume in all 50 states without restrictions.
Epilepsy is a debilitating disease for all ages, but the treatment should not be as dangerous as the affliction, especially for children. Epilepsy drugs and treatments for children add another level of danger because of the effects that the AEDs have on young brains and bodies. The NCBI website in the “Cognitive side-effects of antiepileptic drugs in children” states that “All commonly used AEDs have some effect on cognitive function, and the effect may be substantial when crucial functions are involved, such as learning in children.” Citation 5
This is why the promise that CBD is showing for epilepsy sufferers should not be ignored. Make sure your voice is heard; it is time to promote research on this safe, alternative epilepsy treatment that is showing significant promise in improving the health and quality of life for those that rely on us the most – our children.
Citation 1 – Website link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lennox%E2%80%93Gastaut_syndrome
Citation 2 – Website link: http://www.dravetfoundation.org/dravet-syndrome/what-is-dravet-syndrome
Citation 3 – Website link: http://lettersforvivian.org/index.php
Citation 4 – Website link: http://www.tokeofthetown.com/2012/07/children_are_using_medical_cannabis_and_thats_a_go.php
Citation 5 – Website link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23622218