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  • by Nicola Boulton September 02, 2023 10 min read

    Discover how CBD, or cannabidiol, is making waves in the world of epilepsy treatment. Explore its potential benefits, safety considerations, and ongoing research in this comprehensive article.

    Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures, affecting millions of people worldwide. While traditional treatments such as antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) are effective for many, some individuals continue to experience seizures or struggle with intolerable side effects. In recent years, there has been growing interest in alternative treatments, and one compound, in particular, has gained significant attention: cannabidiol (CBD).

    CBD is one of over 100 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, known for its potential therapeutic properties without the psychoactive effects associated with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Research into CBD's effects on epilepsy has shown promising results, leading to the development of FDA-approved medications. In this article, we will delve into the world of CBD for epilepsy, exploring its potential benefits, safety considerations, and the ongoing research in this field.

    Understanding Epilepsy

    Before we discuss CBD's role in epilepsy treatment, it's essential to understand the disorder itself. According to Rafiee et al (2021), Epilepsy is characterized by unpredictable seizures, which can vary in severity and frequency. These seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, leading to symptoms such as convulsions, loss of consciousness, and altered behavior.

    Traditional treatments for epilepsy primarily involve AEDs, which aim to control or reduce the frequency of seizures. However, not all individuals respond well to these medications, and some experience significant side effects, making the search for alternative therapies imperative.

    Different Types of Epilepsy

    Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE)

    TLE is the most common form of focal epilepsy, characterized by seizures originating in the temporal lobes of the brain. It often involves complex partial seizures, which can cause altered consciousness, repetitive movements, and unusual behaviors. TLE can be caused by brain injury, tumors, or infections.

    Frontal Lobe Epilepsy (FLE)

    FLE involves seizures that originate in the frontal lobes of the brain. Seizures originating here can result in unusual movements, behaviors, and vocalizations. The exact cause can vary and may be due to genetic factors or brain abnormalities.

    Absence Epilepsy

    Yalçın, Ö. (2012) established that absence seizures, also known as petit mal seizures, primarily affect children and adolescents. These seizures cause a brief loss of awareness, where the person may stare blankly for a few seconds. They often begin and end abruptly, and the person may not remember the seizure afterward.

    Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy (JME)

    JME typically starts in adolescence and is characterized by myoclonic jerks (sudden muscle jerks), tonic-clonic seizures (formerly known as grand mal seizures), and sometimes absence seizures. It tends to run in families.

    Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS)

    LGS is a rare and severe form of epilepsy that often begins in childhood. It involves multiple seizure types, including tonic seizures (muscle stiffness), atonic seizures (loss of muscle tone), and atypical absence seizures. Intellectual and developmental disabilities are common in individuals with LGS.

    DravetSyndrome

    According to Polster, T. (2019) Dravet syndrome is a rare and severe genetic epilepsy disorder that typically starts in infancy. It is characterized by frequent and prolonged seizures, often triggered by fever. Other symptoms may include developmental delays and cognitive impairment.

    West Syndrome

    West syndrome is another childhood epilepsy syndrome characterized by infantile spasms, which are brief, symmetric muscle contractions. It often leads to developmental regression and can be associated with underlying brain abnormalities.

    Progressive Myoclonic Epilepsies

    These are a group of rare epilepsies characterized by progressive myoclonus (muscle jerks), along with other types of seizures. They tend to worsen over time and can have various underlying causes, including genetic mutations.

    Photosensitive Epilepsy

    Some individuals with epilepsy experience seizures triggered by specific visual stimuli, such as flashing lights or patterns. This is known as photosensitive epilepsy and is more common in adolescents and young adults.

    Reflex Epilepsies

    Reflex epilepsies are triggered by specific stimuli or actions, such as reading, touching, or eating. These seizures occur in response to the triggering factor and are classified based on their triggers.

    The Promise of CBD

    CBD's potential as an epilepsy treatment was first brought to public attention through the case of Charlotte Figi, a young girl with a severe form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome. Charlotte's seizures dramatically decreased in frequency and severity after she started taking a CBD-rich cannabis extract, now famously known as Charlotte's Web. This story sparked interest in CBD's therapeutic potential for epilepsy and led to extensive research.

    How CBD Works

    CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex network of receptors and neurotransmitters that help regulate various physiological processes, including pain, mood, and inflammation. By modulating the ECS, CBD may influence neuronal excitability, making it a potential candidate for seizure management.

    Reduce Excitatory Signaling

    CBD can dampen the excessive signaling in the brain that leads to seizures.

    Inhibit Neuroinflammation

    According to Yndart Arias et al (2023), CBD has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help with inflammation in the brain that triggers seizures.

    Enhance GABA Signaling

    CBD may increase the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that inhibits brain activity and helps prevent seizures.

    Clinical Evidence

    The most compelling evidence for CBD's efficacy in treating epilepsy comes from clinical trials. Epidiolex, a CBD-based medication, received FDA approval for two rare and severe forms of epilepsy: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS). Clinical trials showed significant reductions in seizure frequency among patients taking Epidiolex.

    Furthermore, ongoing research continues to explore CBD's potential for other epilepsy types, including focal onset seizures and generalized tonic-clonic seizures. While results vary, some studies report promising outcomes, sparking hope for those seeking alternatives to traditional treatments.

    CBD Dosage and Administration for Epilepsy

    Determining the appropriate CBD dosage and administration method for epilepsy management is crucial to maximize its potential benefits while minimizing any associated risks or side effects. In this guide, we will explore how to find the right CBD dosage, consider factors that influence it, and discuss various administration methods for individuals with epilepsy.

    Factors Influencing CBD Dosage

    Finding the optimal CBD dosage is not a one-size-fits-all process; it depends on several individual factors:

    Epilepsy Type

    The type and severity of epilepsy can influence the necessary CBD dosage. Some epilepsy syndromes may require higher doses for effective seizure control.

    Body Weight

    Generally, individuals with higher body weights may require higher CBD dosages than those with lower body weights. CBD is often dosed in milligrams (mg) per kilogram of body weight.

    Tolerance

    Over time, individuals may develop tolerance to CBD, requiring adjustments to maintain its effectiveness.

    Metabolism

    Variations in metabolism can affect how quickly CBD is processed in the body. A person with a faster metabolism may require more frequent dosing.

    Other Medications

    CBD can interact with other medications, particularly antiepileptic drugs (AEDs). Adjustments may be necessary to prevent adverse interactions.

    Finding the Right CBD Dosage

    Start Low and Go Slow

    It is advisable to start with a low CBD dosage, typically between 2.5 mg to 5 mg per kilogram of body weight per day. Gradually increase the dosage every 1-2 weeks while closely monitoring the response.

    Keep a Seizure Diary

    Maintain a detailed seizure diary to track seizure frequency and severity as you adjust the CBD dosage. This provides valuable data for evaluating the treatment's effectiveness.

    Consult a Healthcare Provider

    Always consult with a healthcare provider experienced in epilepsy management when starting CBD treatment. They can provide guidance on dosage adjustments and monitor for potential side effects or interactions.

    Consider Product Potency

    The potency of CBD products can vary significantly. Choose high-quality products from reputable manufacturers with clear labeling to ensure accurate dosing.

    CBD Administration Methods

    Various administration methods are available for CBD, each with its own advantages and considerations:

    Oral Administration

    CBD Oil

    Sublingual administration (under the tongue) allows for fast absorption and precise dosing control.

    Capsules

    Pre-measured CBD capsules provide convenience but may have a slightly delayed onset compared to oils.

    CBD Gummies or Chocolates

    Edibles offer a tasty way to consume CBD, but their effects may take longer to manifest due to digestion.

    Inhalation

    Vaping or Smoking

    Inhaling CBD allows for rapid absorption into the bloodstream, making it a preferred choice for some individuals. However, concerns about lung health should be considered.

    Topical Application

    CBD Creams or Lotions

    Topical products are applied directly to the skin and are primarily used for localized relief of symptoms such as pain or inflammation. They are not typically used for epilepsy management.

    Nasal Sprays

    Some CBD products come in nasal spray form, offering a fast and convenient way to administer CBD.

    Monitoring and Adjusting

    Regular monitoring is essential when using CBD for epilepsy. Keep track of seizure frequency, changes in symptoms, and any side effects. Share this information with your healthcare provider, who can help make dosage adjustments as needed.

    Remember that CBD's effects may take time to become noticeable, and finding the optimal dosage can require patience and careful titration. Additionally, the goal of CBD treatment in epilepsy is often not complete seizure elimination but rather a reduction in seizure frequency and severity to improve quality of life.

    Safety Considerations

    While CBD shows promise, it's essential to consider safety when using any new treatment. CBD is generally well-tolerated, but potential side effects may include dizziness, fatigue, changes in appetite, and interactions with other medications. It's crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before starting CBD treatment, especially if you are already taking AEDs or other medications.

    Additionally, the quality and purity of CBD products can vary significantly. It's advisable to choose products from reputable manufacturers and ensure they undergo third-party testing for potency and contaminants.

    Combination Therapies

    Combination therapies for epilepsy involve using multiple treatments concurrently to achieve better seizure control, especially in cases where single medications or interventions may not be fully effective. Here, we'll explore the concept of combination therapies for epilepsy, their advantages, challenges, and the potential role of CBD in these treatment approaches.

    The Rationale for Combination Therapies

    Increased Efficacy

    One of the primary reasons for using combination therapies is to enhance seizure control. Different medications and treatments may target various aspects of epilepsy's underlying causes or mechanisms, and using them together can be more effective than relying on a single approach.

    Reduced Side Effects

    Combining medications at lower doses can sometimes lead to fewer side effects than using a higher dose of a single medication. This can be especially important in cases where side effects are severe or intolerable.

    Addressing Different Seizure Types

    Some individuals with epilepsy experience multiple seizure types that respond differently to medications. Combination therapies can be tailored to target specific seizure types, providing a more comprehensive treatment strategy.

    Types of Combination Therapies

    Multiple Antiepileptic Drugs (AEDs)

    The most common form of combination therapy involves using two or more AEDs simultaneously. Different AEDs may have varying mechanisms of action and side effect profiles, allowing for better seizure control with reduced side effects.

    AEDs and Non-pharmacological Treatments

    In addition to medications, non-pharmacological treatments such as ketogenic diets, vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), and responsive neurostimulation (RNS) can be used in combination with AEDs to improve seizure management.

    CBD and AEDs

    Cannabidiol (CBD) has gained attention as a potential adjunct therapy for epilepsy. Some individuals with treatment-resistant epilepsy have reported improved seizure control when using CBD in conjunction with their existing AEDs.

    Advantages of Combination Therapies

    Enhanced Seizure Control

    Combining treatments can lead to better seizure control, reducing the frequency and severity of seizures.

    Reduced Side Effects

    Lower doses of individual medications can result in fewer side effects, enhancing the overall quality of life for individuals with epilepsy.

    Targeted Approaches

    Combination therapies can be tailored to address specific seizure types or underlying causes, providing a more personalized treatment strategy.

    Challenges and Considerations

    Drug Interactions

    When combining multiple AEDs or AEDs with other treatments, the risk of drug interactions increases. Close monitoring by a healthcare provider is essential to manage these interactions effectively.

    Individual Variation

    Epilepsy is highly individualized, and what works for one person may not work for another. Finding the right combination therapy often requires a trial-and-error approach.

    Cost

    Some combination therapies can be more expensive due to the need for multiple medications or treatments, potentially posing financial challenges for individuals without adequate insurance coverage.

    Long-term Effects

    The long-term safety and effectiveness of combination therapies, especially when involving newer treatments like CBD, may require further research and monitoring.

    The Role of CBD in Combination Therapies

    CBD has shown promise as an adjunct therapy for epilepsy, particularly in cases of drug-resistant seizures. Its potential anticonvulsant properties make it an attractive option for combination therapy. However, the use of CBD in epilepsy treatment should be approached cautiously and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

    Conclusion

    CBD's journey from a relatively unknown cannabinoid to an FDA-approved epilepsy medication is a testament to its potential as a treatment option. While it may not work for everyone, many individuals with epilepsy have experienced significant improvements in seizure control and overall quality of life.

    As research continues to uncover the intricacies of CBD's mechanisms of action and its potential applications in epilepsy treatment, it's crucial to remain informed about the latest developments. If you or a loved one is considering CBD as an adjunct therapy for epilepsy, consult with a healthcare provider who specializes in epilepsy management to discuss its suitability and dosage.

    In conclusion, CBD for epilepsy is a promising avenue that has brought hope to many individuals who previously struggled with uncontrolled seizures. While more research is needed to fully understand its benefits and potential risks, CBD's approval for specific epilepsy syndromes and ongoing studies suggest that it has a significant role to play in the management of this challenging condition.

    References 

    Polster, T. (2019). Individualized treatment approaches: Fenfluramine, a novel antiepileptic medication for the treatment of seizures in Dravet syndrome. Epilepsy & Behavior91, 99-102. Top of Form

    Rafiee, M., Istasy, M., &Valiante, T. A. (2021). Music in epilepsy: Predicting the effects of the unpredictable. Epilepsy & Behavior122, 108164.

    Yalçın, Ö. (2012). Genes and molecular mechanisms involved in the epileptogenesis of idiopathic absence epilepsies. Seizure21(2), 79-86.

    Yndart Arias, A., Kolishetti, N., Vashist, A., Madepalli, L., Llaguno, L., & Nair, M. (2023). Anti-inflammatory effects of CBD in human microglial cell line infected with HIV-1. Scientific Reports13(1), 7376.

    What is CBD?

    CBD, or cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants, known for its potential therapeutic benefits, including for epilepsy.

    How does CBD help with epilepsy?

    CBD is believed to help with epilepsy by interacting with the endocannabinoid system, which may reduce the frequency and severity of seizures.

    Is CBD legal for treating epilepsy in the UK?

    Yes, CBD is legal in the UK for treating epilepsy, especially in cases of severe, drug-resistant epilepsy, with the prescription of Epidyolex, a CBD-based medication.

    What is Epidyolex?

    Epidyolex is a prescription medicine containing CBD, approved for the treatment of severe forms of epilepsy, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

    How is CBD administered for epilepsy?

    CBD for epilepsy is typically administered orally in the form of oils, tinctures, or as Epidyolex, taken under the supervision of a healthcare provider.

    Are there any side effects of using CBD for epilepsy?

    Common side effects of CBD for epilepsy can include drowsiness, decreased appetite, diarrhoea, and potential interactions with other medications.

    How effective is CBD in treating epilepsy?

    Studies have shown that CBD can be effective in reducing the frequency of seizures in some patients with severe forms of epilepsy, though results can vary.

    Can children with epilepsy use CBD?

    Yes, children with severe, drug-resistant epilepsy can use CBD, particularly Epidyolex, under medical supervision and prescription.

    Is CBD a cure for epilepsy?

    No, CBD is not a cure for epilepsy, but it can help manage and reduce the frequency and severity of seizures in some patients.

    Should I consult a doctor before using CBD for epilepsy?

    Yes, it is essential to consult a healthcare provider before using CBD for epilepsy to ensure it is safe, appropriate, and properly monitored.

    Nicola Boulton
    Nicola Boulton


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