Some of the most concrete research to date regarding cannabis treatments and epilepsy have been released in the past few months. One such study was conducted by the American Academy of Neurology, which focused on Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS). The study showed as much as a 50 percent decrease in “drop” seizures when taking cannabidiol (CBD). Clinically known as atonic seizures, they are often very brief, lasting less than fifteen seconds, but can cause physical damage since the patient loses all muscle control and can become injured from falling. This type of seizure is a hallmark of LGS.
“Our study found that cannabidiol shows great promise in that it may reduce seizures that are otherwise difficult to control,”
said author Anup Patel, MD, of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
The 225 participants in the study all suffered from LGS and had an average of 85 atonic seizures in a month, and also tried an average of six other epilepsy medications without success. Each patient also took an average of three epilepsy medications while participating in the study.
The patients were put into three groups: one group took 20mg per kilogram of body weight. Another group took 10mg/kg and the final group was given a placebo.
In the first group, 42 percent of patients saw a reduction in atonic seizures. Of those patients, 40 percent said the number of seizures were at least cut in half. In the second group, 37 percent experienced a reduction in atonic seizures. 36 percent of those patients said their seizures were at least cut in half. For the placebo group, 17 percent of patients saw a reduction in their atonic seizures, with 15 percent of that group experiencing a fifty percent decrease or more.
“Our results suggest that cannabidiol may be effective for those with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome in treating drop seizures,” said Patel.
“This is important because this kind of epilepsy is incredibly difficult to treat. While there were more side effects for those taking cannabidiol, they were mostly well-tolerated. I believe that it may become an important new treatment option for these patients.”
Side effects were reported in the majority of all three of the groups, but typically were mild and consisted of drowsiness and a limited appetite. In the two groups who were taking CBD, patients were 2.6 times more likely to cite an improvement in their condition, compared to the placebo group.
This study contributes to the growing amount of evidence that CBD is effective in treating epilepsy, especially in children with epileptic disorders that do not respond to conventional treatment. One study examined Dravet Syndrome, another form of epilepsy that affects children. The research model was very similar to Patel’s study, and the results showed an average of 50 percent reduction in the number of seizures. There is currently no FDA-approved treatment for Dravet Syndrome, but there are cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals currently going through the approval process. GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epilodex has been submitted for FDA approval, but will require the DEA to reschedule CBD treatments before it can be prescribed by doctors. Recent DEA policy suggests they are not intending to do so.
There are a myriad of benefits, according to medical cannabis and legalization advocates, of smoking, or otherwise ingesting the plant. It’s also a popular recreational drug that is considered safer than alcohol, and more acceptable than other street drugs such as heroin and cocaine, and even many prescription medications. As cannabis becomes more mainstream, however, concerns have been raised over cannabis smoking around children. While there is still much more to be learned, researchers and doctors warn: Don’t smoke cannabis around children and babies. They cite potential development issues for unborn babies, health issues, behavioral and learning problems as the basis for their recommendations.
Research and Studies
A very small study in Colorado involving 43 children between the ages of 1 month and 2 years reported that 16% had been exposed to cannabis smoke. This was discovered with the use of urine testing and supported by interviews with parents and caregivers. Other researchers claim that THC exposure early in child’s life may have a negative impact on brain development. However, there are other factors that also come into play, such as nutrition, environment and exposure to other substances. Therefore, more research is needed to definitively determine how second-hand cannabis smoke affects children. Is also unknown what effects prenatal cannabis smoking has on an unborn child.
Everything that an expecting mother ingests, inhales, or otherwise puts into her body while pregnant is shared with her unborn child. Pregnant women are discouraged from smoking, drinking alcohol and eating fish in large quantities because these things can cause birth defects, low birth-rates and even miscarriage. According to some researchers, cannabis use during pregnancy actually changes the way that the unborn child’s brain develops, specifically, there is a cortical thickening. However, researchers are unsure as to exactly how this impacts the child, however, it is believed to cause issues with attention, learning and contributes to behavioral problems.
Attention & Learning
While other factors are certainly worth looking at such as, the classroom environment, the child’s home life, nutrition and general health, exposure to cannabis smoke for young children seems to have a negative impact. As well as having difficulty with attention, children exposed to cannabis smoke at an early age may also prone to learning disabilities, such as memory problems. This presents itself as a significant issue in classrooms that are often based on memorizing facts, figures, dates and rules. What’s more, these children sometimes either lack, or have under-developed, problem-solving skills. This often leads to poor performance in school and difficulty making important decisions.
One significant concern with very little research to confirm is that exposure to cannabis smoke creates behavioral issues in children. Some researchers claim that newborn babies of smokers are prone to trembling, shrill cries and that they react differently to visual stimuli than babies born to non-cannabis smokers. What’s more, these children often exhibit behavior issues both at home and in the classroom. Some studies have even shown an increase in aggression associated with children who were exposed to cannabis before birth. It seems that even low dose exposures produce changes in behavior in some children, however, this is not always the case and more investigation into the matter is warranted.
While there are no solid answers as to how second-hand cannabis smoke, or prenatal exposure to cannabis, affect a child, it’s wise to err on the side of caution. Pregnant women are urged to eliminate alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and any substance that has the potential to cause their unborn child harm. What’s more, parents and caregivers should simply find a child-free place to smoke cannabis, and should always keep their supply out of the reach of children.