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[9 min read] Medicinal cannabis and epilepsy

Treating epilepsy and other conditions that manifest with seizures using medical cannabis has been one of the major topics covered in the media surrounding medicinal cannabis. Witnessing some cases of children with epilepsy showing dramatic changes when prescribed medicinal cannabis formulations has been a driving force behind regulatory changes around the world.

Learning how to get the most out of medical cannabis for your patient is important. If you are a doctor with a suitable patient, you can refer your patients to CA Clinics here or email info@caclinics.com.au. You can also learn more about studies currently being conducted by  Applied Cannabis Research, with patients recruited through CA Clinics, by emailing here.

For further information on this topic, you may be interested to learn more about the HealthCert Professional Diploma program in Medicinal Cannabis.

Medicinal cannabis, specifically high cannabidiol (CBD) medical cannabis prescriptions are commonly utilised in cases of epilepsy. Many types of epilepsy are resistant to conventional pharmaceutical treatments, in these cases, medical cannabis may be able to offer an alternative where other medications have failed.

Data from Epilepsy Action Australia shows around 14 per cent of individuals with epilepsy are utilising cannabinoid medicines to aid in managing seizures. Yet it is thought that standard medications fail at controlling seizures in more than 30 per cent of epileptic patients.

Does medical cannabis improve epilepsy symptoms?

Different medical cannabis formulations include varying ratios of cannabinoids that may be beneficial for epilepsy patients. In saying that, CBD is the primary cannabis compound that exhibits anti-epileptic actions. The other major cannabinoid, THC, has not been shown to have any direct effect as an anti-epileptic.

Despite this, it is thought that the addition of THC, and other minor cannabinoids, to CBD dominant medications, leads to what is called the entourage effect. The entourage effect is when cannabinoids act synergistically together to create a more profound effect than what any cannabinoid could do in isolation.

Can CBD help to reduce seizures in epilepsy?

CBD and other types of CBD medication delivery options such as patches or sprays have been shown to reduce seizure severity and frequency in numerous clinical trials over the past two decades. A great deal of the research into CBD treatment for epilepsy has focused on childhood epileptic conditions that are commonly treatment-resistant; for example: Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndrome.

When reviewing epilepsy clinical trials it is found on average 40-60 per cent of patients experience a 50 per cent reduction in seizures. A smaller portion of people finds CBD can reduce their seizure frequency by 50-90 per cent. It is important to note that CBD is not a cure for epilepsy, yet these are significant improvements especially for those patients who can experience hundreds of seizures a month.

In some cases, epilepsy patients have reported the complete absence of seizures when put on CBD medications. So far research tells of seizure freedom in around 2-5 per cent of cases.

CBD doesn’t act only as an anti-epileptic or anticonvulsant, but also as a neuroprotective and antioxidant. This can mean that even if seizures are still experienced, CBD may be able to offer protection against the damage of the electrical storm that is ravaging the brain. The hope is that it may also potentially translate to changes to the quality of life, mood and motor skills of individuals with epilepsy.

What medicinal cannabis treatments are available for epilepsy?

Medical cannabis or CBD formulations are most commonly given to patients in the form of oil or spray delivered under the tongue. There are other types of medical cannabis delivery options available, such as patches, capsules and nebulised formulations, however, in terms of epilepsy, oils or sprays are most commonly used to ensure consistent doses and optimal absorption.

Are there side effects when treating epilepsy with medical cannabis?

Side effects of medical cannabis can involve drowsiness, dry eyes and gastrointestinal
discomfort. In medical cannabis formulations containing THC, euphoria or intoxicating effects can occur depending on the dose of THC. While the effects of THC on children is not fully understood and is a concern for some parents, the damage enacted on the brain by severe and regular seizures can cause extreme damage to neurological functioning and behaviours.

Many side effects can be avoided with a carefully laid out dosage regime determined by an experienced physician like those at CA Clinics. Otherwise, many patients and caretakers acknowledge that while side effects are common, the improvements in seizure control and quality of life balance out the discomfort of side effects.

Is it safe for children with epilepsy to take medicinal cannabis?

When prescribing medical cannabis to a child with severe epilepsy that is not responding to normal medications, the risks and benefits must be weighed to determine the most effective and safe treatment.

There is no medication, pharmaceutical or otherwise, that can remove the causes of epilepsy. However, medical cannabis or CBD may aid in the prevention of neurological damage and reduction of seizures in both children and adults.

Book an appointment with CA Clinics now or call 1300 991 477 or email info@caclinics.com.au if you would like to learn more.

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If you are interested in becoming an authorised prescriber of Medicinal Cannabis in Australia, the TGA SAS-B guidelines require you to prove that you have the knowledge necessary to do so. HealthCert’s Professional Diploma of Medicinal Cannabis pathway can serve as part of your documentation showing that you have undertaken education in this field when you decide to become an authorised prescriber.

This article has been provided by our partner, Southern Cannabis Holdings. Southern Cannabis Holdings builds, integrates and operates high-value brands across the cannabis value chain, including FreshLeaf AnalyticsCannabis Access Clinics and Applied Cannabis Research. HealthCert and Southern Cross Holdings have partnered up to bridge gaps in patient and clinician knowledge on medicinal cannabis.

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