Epilepsy, which is caused by an abrupt rush of electrical activity in the brain and results in unprovoked and recurrent seizures, is the fourth most common chronic neurological disorder. Affecting people of all ages, it is extremely detrimental to children, as 34 percent of all childhood deaths are due to epilepsy or accidents that occur during seizures. Over recent years, cannabis has been spotlighted as a possible treatment for those who suffer from epilepsy, but the idea that cannabis can successfully treat epilepsy is not a new one.
Many studies have been conducted in the past to explore this topic. Indalecio Lozano, in his treatise “The Therapeutic Use of Cannabis sativa (L.) in Arabic Medicine,” wrote that in the 10th and 11th century physicians used “hemp in the treatment of epilepsy and prescribes that the patient should be given the juice of the leaves through the nose.”
Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam, the discoverer of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), undertook the first modern study using the cannabidiol (CBD) found in cannabis to treat epilepsy. The 1980 study found significant benefit as “four of the eight CBD subjects remained almost free of convulsive crises throughout the experiment and three other patients demonstrated partial improvement in their clinical condition.” Although published in the peer-review journal Pharmacology, he was dismayed that “it was published and nothing happened afterwards.” It was 34 years before another study was done confirming his findings.
Medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies were so intimidated by the U.S. government, whose “reefer madness” policies had permeated the world. Cannabis prohibition caused hundreds of thousands of children throughout the world with treatment-resistant forms of epilepsy to suffer and die from uncontrolled seizures instead of allowing further research to be conducted.
“After a 1,000-year period of limbo, the use of cannabis for treating epilepsy has been revived and revitalized improving health and restoring life to millions throughout the world.”
Nevertheless, word-of-mouth anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of cannabis in mitigating childhood epilepsy had motivated thousands of parents to use cannabis to treat their children. Many found that CBD significantly reduced the number of seizures that their children suffered from, with some asserting the number of seizures being reduced to zero.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta thrust the use of cannabis to treat childhood epilepsy into the spotlight in 2013 with his medical cannabis special on CNN highlighting the narrative of Charlotte Figi who started having epileptic seizures when she was just three months old. Diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a rare and severe form of intractable epilepsy, she was hospitalized continuously with seizures lasting up to four hours.
At two years of age she was experiencing 300 grand mal seizures per week, resulting in a significant decline in cognitive facilities, eventually losing the capacity to talk, walk and eat.
Learning of the anecdotal evidence that cannabis can successfully treat childhood epilepsy her parents turned to two Colorado growers who produced a cannabis oil from a strain of cannabis high in CBD and low in THC. After the first administration of this oil, Figi’s seizures stopped immediately and ceased for a full week. With seizures reduced to two or three a month, Figi began to lead a normal life. This strain of cannabis high in CBD and low in THC was named after her, becoming the legendary Charlotte’s Web.
Thanks to Dr. Gupta’s CNN report, word about the use of cannabis to treat childhood epilepsy spread rapidly. Desperate parents sought to obtain cannabis through quasi-legal and illegal means with many actually uprooting their lives and moving to Colorado to obtain what seemed a “miracle” cure.
Finally the scientific community took an interest and in February 2016, Israeli medical researchers published one of the first peer-reviewed studies, entitled “CBD-enriched medical cannabis for intractable pediatric epilepsy: The current Israeli experience,” concluding that “The results of this multicenter study on CBD treatment for intractable epilepsy in a population of children and adolescents are highly promising.”
In 2007, GW Pharmaceuticals, a pioneering British biotech firm, began pre-clinical research into the use of CBD to treat epilepsy. The results were so promising that in 2013 GW began a clinical study to develop a prescription pharmaceutical formulation using CBD totally derived from the cannabis plant.
GW Pharmacueticals’ study was published in January 2018 in the British medical journal The Lancet. In a stunning reversal of over 40 years insisting there is no medical uses for cannabis, on June 25, 2018 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved GW Pharmaceutical’s new drug Epidiolex for treating epileptic seizures in patients with Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut Syndromes.
After a 1,000-year period of limbo, the use of cannabis for treating epilepsy has been revived and revitalized improving health and restoring life to millions througho