Medical professionals have conducted extensive research on cannabinoid’s ability to mitigate health issues ranging from anxiety to chronic pain. Newer research has added epilepsy to the list of complications that CBD can help manage.
Cannabinoids are substances from the plant Cannabis sativa, which produces two main compounds: cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The latter induces a psychoactive high, making CBD the primary focus of studies analyzing cannabinoids’ medical potential.
In research over the past several decades, scientists have learned more about a complex network in the human body called the endocannabinoid system. They learned that cannabinoids interact with this system in ways that exert an effect on other bodily systems such as the brain, endocrine system, and the immune system. One of the recently studied effects is CBD’s ability to help people who suffer from epilepsy, a neural disorder that causes seizures.
Previous claims to CBD’s positive effect in regulating epileptic seizures mostly involved anecdotal evidence. More recent randomized, controlled studies have found CBD to be effective in treating epilepsy, which has opened the doors for new medications to be created to assuage the symptoms of the disorder.
The Science Behind CBD and Seizures
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a significant role in regulating other systems in the human body.
When people ingest cannabinoids, the compounds bind to two main types of receptors in the ECS, inducing a variety of physical and psychological effects depending on the type of cannabinoid. CBD downregulates certain synaptic transmissions and neural pathways that lead to seizures. While CBD and THC have similar abilities to affect seizures, notably through their anticonvulsant and anti-inflammation properties, CBD is the most practical for medical use because it lacks adverse psychoactive side effects and has a much lower potential for abuse.
The FDA Getting On Board
In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration approved an oral CBD medication called Epidiolex to treat two types of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. The green light for Epidiolex followed a series of clinical trials in which CBD reduced the frequency of epilepsy in the studied population to a statistically significant degree compared to a placebo.
Then-FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb commented on the approval of the drug. “This approval serves as a reminder that advancing sound development programs that properly evaluate active ingredients contained in marijuana can lead to important medical therapies,” he said. “And, the FDA is committed to this kind of careful scientific research and drug development.”
The pro-CBD community considered the Epidiolex approval a step forward in normalizing cannabis-derived products for medical use. It has opened the doors to new research on the administration of CBD for epileptic patients, particularly drug-refractory patients (patients whose epilepsy does not respond to traditionally prescribed medication).
Most Effective CBD Treatment
When it comes to administering CBD for medical purposes, there are different factors to consider.
One of these is which form of CBD is best, usually prompting a choice between “plant-based” CBD rich extracts and purified isolated CBD. One study concluded that while both decreased frequency in seizures for patients with refractory epilepsy, the extracts did so with a smaller dosage, meaning they have greater reported potency and efficacy. It is preferable for patients to take lower doses because of the possible side effects that ingesting CBD can produce, including gastrointestinal issues, changes in appetite, and fatigue.
Researchers have attributed the greater potency of the extracts to a phenomenon called the entourage effect. This takes place because the other minor compounds in the cannabis plant act in conjunction with the main compound in the plant, CBD. This synergy incites a heightened reaction in the endocannabinoid system versus the purified CBD treatment, allowing it to have the same health impact at a lower concentration.
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