Recent research has shown that cannabidiol (CBD), which is a chemical compound found in cannabis plants, might be effective in treating epilepsy. Several studies have shown that CBD might have some seizure-reducing properties, which is why it could be used to treat epilepsy. The current number of studies is rather small, due to how difficult it can be to test cannabis-related medicines, but so far there has been some success. However many people, especially those seeking CBD as a treatment for epilepsy, want to know how CBD works in the body and if it is safe to use.
What Does CBD Do?
Cannabidiol works through the human endocannabinoid system. CBD can affect both of the types of receptors found in the endocannabinoid system. These receptors are called CB1 and CB2 receptors. Cannabidiol binds to these receptors and essentially blocks them from firing. While this much is understood about cannabidiol, it’s still unclear how this interaction directly relates to epilepsy. Hopefully, as more research is done and more trials are conducted, the mechanism will become better understood.
Also, it should be noted that CBD is not the cause of the high many people get from smoking marijuana. That comes from the chemical THC. Indeed, CBD has been shown to actively work against the psychoactive properties of THC. However, most marijuana tends to have very little CBD, as marijuana tends to be bred to have high THC content and low CBD content in order to give a stronger high. This means that marijuana may not be the best source for a person’s CBD. Instead, hemp, which is another cannabis plant, tends to have much higher levels of CBD and much lower levels of THC. Levels are so low that one usually cannot get high off of the hemp plant.
In regards to what types of epilepsy CBD has been shown to treat, CBD has been effective in some clinical trials for treating people with traditionally hard to treat epilepsies. Two specific types of epilepsy that have had successes thus far are Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS). In two studies patients seemed to show on average about a 40% reduction in seizures, and in another study of patients aged 2-26 there was an average of 54% reduction in seizures. More studies are sure to come in the future, especially as awareness of CBD’s uses grow, but until then these studies are a good indication that CBD may be able to help some people suffering from these syndromes.
Is CBD Safe?
Anyone taking a medicine will want to know if it’s safe to use, especially if that medicine is used to treat serious health issues like epilepsy. In the clinical studies previously mentioned, there were some side effects. In one study, about 18% of patients experienced one or more of these symptoms: sleepiness, diminished appetite, fatigue, and diarrhea. Upset stomach was also reported in another study. Most of these symptoms were classified as only mild/moderate, and there is some thought that diarrhea and upset stomach might be caused not by the CBD itself but by the fact that the CBD was in oil form and the oil itself was the cause of the side effects.
A small minority has reported more serious side effects in one trial. About 10% (22 individuals) of those in the study of patients aged 2-26 experienced serious side effects that might have been linked to CBD they were taking. The most reported of these serious side effects was prolonged seizures, also known as status epilepticus. However, it was not determined if this was directly caused by the CBD they were taking, but the link is possible.
Drug interactions are also important to keep in mind when trying CBD. Patients on valproic acid (VPA) saw an increase in liver activity. This increased activity could lead to liver issues in some people. Another drug that CBD interacts with is clobazam (Onfi). Some people think that the tiredness reported by some patients might be caused by this interaction. Of course, as more studies are done, the scientific community will learn more about how CBD interacts with other drugs. This is one of the reasons why it is so important more trials be conducted.
Overall, CBD does seem to be a relatively safe drug for many people to take. Serious reactions are uncommon, and even those reactions have yet to be conclusively linked to CBD. The currently known interactions with other drugs can be avoided, so long as patients are aware of what drugs they are taking. Since the side effects tend to be so minor and CBD seems to treat epilepsies that are usually hard to treat, many are interested in trying CBD as a medication.
Would you like to learn more about CBD and how it can help with other ailments as well? Read the popular article we published here.