Aiden is 7 years old. He has special needs and uncontrolled epilepsy. For the last several years, I have been part of the team of health practitioners caring for Aiden. Aiden’s parents, Osiris and Nina found relief for their child with cannabis medicine.
Check out Osiris & Nina's podcast " Love & Cannabis".
Aiden's parents fight to raise awareness, educate the public, and share their journey with raising a son with epilepsy.
Treatment of Seizures with Cannabis Medicine
Documented cannabis use for the treatment of seizures dates back centuries and can be found in Sumerian texts. In the U.S. epilepsy is at an all-time high. During the past decade, we have seen a lot of developments in epilepsy therapy from new devices and new medications and the advancement of dietary therapies, yet despite all of those advances, we still have approximately 30% of people, both children, and adults with epilepsy, whose seizures cannot be fully controlled despite available therapies.
Epilepsies have an extraordinary impact on a patient’s quality of life. Not only does it affect cognitive and behavioral functions, but if uncontrolled, it can lead to permanent disability. Patients lose the ability to work and earn a living. There are two major constituents in medical cannabis, CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC. Cannabidiol is the major, non-psychoactive ingredient or compound. CBD as a treatment option for seizures represents a challenge and a unique opportunity.
In my medical practice patients come to seek my advice after they have exhausted all pharmaceutical options (anti-seizure medications), and even very aggressive treatments – brain surgery, special restrictive diets (ketogenic/paleo-type diets). Patients who come to me have usually tried over a dozen medications that have failed them.
On June 25, 2018, Epidiolex became the first cannabis-derived pharmaceutical approved by the FDA in the U.S. Made from CBD extract, the drug is not psychoactive and has been approved for two rare forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Dr. Orrin Devinsky, the principal investigator of the study behind Epidiolex, stated that “the CBD binds with a novel receptor in the brain and thereby dampens down too much electrical activity. CBD seems to be a relatively unique mechanism of action that’s not shared by any of the existing seizure medications.” CBD is thought to act on specific brain receptors and likely modulates calcium activity in neurons.
For the last 15 years, I have been treating children and adults who have treatment-resistant epilepsy. I work as a team with their neurologists to help integrate medical cannabis safely. Over 50% of my patients have a reduction in seizures after a trial of various CBD extracts. Many patients report decreased frequency, severity, and duration of the seizures. And interestingly, they report back that where the patient had a seizure before and it would take all day to get over that groggy and “hungover” feeling, the patient feels they can recover faster and feel like themselves again.
CBD can interact with prescription medications, especially current anti-epilepsy medications as well as increase liver enzymes. It is best to consult your specialist and a physician who is experienced in integrative cannabis medicine before you try CBD for seizures. To assess safety and efficacy patients should be continually monitored and re-assessed to develop a personalized care plan tailored to their needs.
Sleep and Seizures: A Complex Interplay
Research shows that there is a significant relationship between sleep and people with epilepsy. Sleep is especially important if you have epilepsy. Most types of seizures are affected by sleep.
If you have epilepsy, lack of good, restorative, sleep makes most people more likely to have seizures. It can even increase the intensity and length of seizures. Some forms of epilepsy are especially prone to sleep problems. Children and young adults with epilepsy require more sleep than adults.
Sleep is crucial to our physical and mental functioning. The most recent research indicates that sleep is essential to all of the body's repair and restore functions. When we are at rest, the body learns what's wrong and physically "relearns" how to contend with the complexities and stressors of everyday life. Restful sleep has been proven to improve memory recall, regulate metabolism, and reduce mental fatigue.
During sleep, the brain reorganizes and recharges itself, and the body removes waste byproducts that have accumulated throughout the day. It's almost as if our dream life represents our struggle to get back to balance.
When people are sleep deprived, they suffer. Their cognitive abilities decline, their behavior, and their judgment becomes erratic. Fatigue makes us more emotional, anxious; more strung out, more on edge.
Anxiety, stress, and chronic sleep deprivation all inhibit GABA, a naturally occurring brain chemical that directs neurons to slow down or stop firing. This neurotransmitter also helps to induce sleep, relax muscles, and calm down. In essence, GABA directs the body to chill out.
Medical cannabis is not a silver bullet. Patients and the medical community need objective and unbiased data on safety and efficacy to endorse cannabis to treat epilepsy. Patients are looking for reliable information, but have few trusted healthcare-provided resources.
Wishing you all the best in health.
Dr. June Chin