Epilepsy & Medical Marijuana

By Marie Veksler | August 21, 2014

If a person has one seizure, it does not mean that they have epilepsy. A person must have at least two seizures with a high expectancy for more in order to be diagnosed as epileptic. Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes seizures, and according to the Epilepsy Foundation, a seizure is a disruption of the electrical communication between neurons in the brain. During a seizure, nerve cells in the brain can fire electrical impulses at a rate of up to four times higher than normal. This can last for a few seconds, or it can last for minutes. These electrical impulses can create the symptoms like muscle clenching and convulsing. Symptoms of a seizure may also be as mild as staring into space, and the person having the seizure may not even realize what is happening.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation’s website, epilepsy and seizures can develop in any person at any age, however, it is more common in young children and older people. This is the 4th most common neurological condition. It effects 65 million people worldwide, but only about 2 million people in the United States.

The most common form of treatment for epilepsy is a boat load of prescription drugs.  There is only treatment available for the symptoms of epilepsy, so each patient often needs many pills per day. Many of these anti-convulsion medications deliver such a punch, and have such severe side effects that they can stop the heart and lungs from working properly. No pharmaceuticals today target the actual epilepsy to reduce the onset of seizures. Thanks to the Stanley Brothers of Colorado Springs, Colorado, this may change.

The Stanley Brothers grow a very special strain of medicinal marijuana that is very low in the psychoactive cannabinoid THC, and very high in CBD, which has proven to significantly lower the number of seizures per day in epilepsy patients. When everyone else was breeding up the amount of THC, the Stanley Brothers are the only ones breeding it down. They use this special high CBD strain to make lab tested oil for patients. It has been used to treat epilepsy in patients as young as 5 years old.

The Stanley family started a non-profit organization called the Realm of Caring. This organization was formed to provide this alternative medicine to patients suffering from several diseases including epilepsy. They provide this alternative treatment, and monitor each patient’s progress. They are also raising awareness, and fighting for legislation to remove the hemp plant that produces this high CBD medicine from the definition of Marijuana, so that patients are not breaking the law to receive treatment. Legislatures in Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Utah, Illinois, Minnesota and other states have recently passed similar bills.

Epilepsy is described in two ways. One describes the cause of the epilepsy, and the other describes the type of seizure.  If the cause is known, it is referred to as “symptomatic epilepsy.” An example of symptomatic epilepsy would be if it was caused by a brain injury from a car accident. If the epilepsy is genetic or inherited, it is called, “idiopathic epilepsy.” The Epilepsy Society of the United Kingdom describes the basis for seizure type as:

The brain has two sides called the right and left hemispheres. Each hemisphere has four parts called lobes. Each lobe is responsible for different things such as vision, speech and emotions. Seizures are divided into two main types: focal seizures (partial seizures) and generalized seizures. Epileptic seizures always start in the brain.

The four main lobes of the brain are the frontal, occipital, parietal, and temporal lobes. The symptoms and severity of the seizure depend on which lobe of the brain it starts in, how large of an area it effects, and whether it stays in one place or spreads of another lobe, or even to the other hemisphere. Seizures range in severity from mild to major, and are categorized depending on the effects on the patient.

brain lobes diagram2

The non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis called cannabidiol, or CBD for short, has shown incredible results in the treatment of epilepsy in patients of all ages. One of the most well known cases of epilepsy treatment that the Stanley Brothers provide medicine for is, Charlotte Figi. Dr. Sanjay Gupta and CNN made a documentary about the benefits of medicinal marijuana, during which people suffering from different disorders were able to tell their stories of successful medical cannabis treatments. Charlotte Figi was one of the cases of epilepsy in this documentary.

At 3 months old, Charlotte was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, also known as Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy of Infancy. This is a rare and catastrophic form of pediatric epilepsy. Charlotte was suffering from up to 60 severe seizures each day. Her quality of life was very poor because of constant seizures. She was not able to develop, learn and play like her twin sister. Twice, her mother had to resuscitate her after seizure medicine caused her heart to stop. Doctors told the Figi family that Charlotte had reached the end of the line, and planned to remove the last pharmaceutical medicine from her treatment plan. This is when Paige Figi, Charlotte’s mother, heard about the Stanley Brothers strain of low THC, high CBD marijuana. Of course, Paige, did not want to get her young daughter “stoned,” so this strain was perfect. Before CBD treatment, Charlotte would suffer from up to 60 seizures per day. In the first week of CBD treatment, Charlotte went 7 days without a seizure. Now, almost 2 years later, Paige writes:

 Charlotte is clear-headed, focused, has no attention deficit. She rides horses, skis, paints, dances, hikes. She even has friends for the first time. Her brain is healing. She is healthy. She is happy.

Charlotte’s story is not the only one of success from CBD treatments, but there is still more research to be done. Find more stories of successful CBD treatment of epilepsy, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other ailments on the Realm of Caring website.

Marie Veksler

With more than 15 years of cannabis education and experience, Marie is dedicated to sharing knowledge about the versatile plant while expanding the stoner stereotype. Email tips to marie@massroots.com.

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