By Alan Shackelford, M.D..
One of the medical conditions for which doctors can recommend marijuana in Colorado under Article 18 of the Colorado Constitution is “seizures, including those that are characteristic of epilepsy.” In this installment we will examine what seizures are, and why cannabis is sometimes used to treat them.
Seizures are the result of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain or other parts of the nervous system and occur in people of all ages and races. Only about 33 percent of people who have one seizure ever have another, while some 75 percent of people of people who have a second seizure will have subsequent seizures. This is called “epilepsy,” and some 3 million Americans have the condition. About 300,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, nearly half of which are in children under the age of 18.
It is important to note that the use of cannabis in seizure disorders has not been extensively studied. Although a large body of research evidence is unequivocally supportive of using cannabis in many medical conditions, the evidence supporting its use in seizure disorders is not quite so clear-cut, with some studies suggesting little benefit while others indicate that it is extremely beneficial. Nonetheless, cannabis can be a part of a treatment plan, especially in the cases of the estimated 30 percent or so of patients whose seizures are only partially controlled or, in some cases, are not controlled at all by prescription medications. It may therefore be that the most important role cannabis may play in treating seizures is as an adjunct to prescription medications.
As is the case for every medical use of cannabis, however, much more research is needed to more fully understand its effects and how best to use it. However, a spokeswoman for the National Institute on Drug Abuse said in a January 10, 2010 report in the New York Times: “As the National Institute on Drug Abuse, our focus is primarily on the negative consequences of marijuana use. We generally do not fund research focused on the potential beneficial medical effects of marijuana.”
Unfortunately, NIDA funds 85 percent of the world’s research into substances like marijuana.
So don’t hold your breath waiting for objective studies on the effects of cannabis on seizures to be published any time soon . . . at least, not in the United States.
Alan Shackelford, M.D., graduated from the University of Heidelberg School of Medicine and trained at major teaching hospitals of Harvard Medical School in internal medicine, nutritional medicine and hyperalimentation and behavioral medicine. He is principle physician for Intermedical Consulting, LLC and Amarimed of Colorado, LLC and can be contacted at Amarimed.com.