Dr. Campbell: Seizures and medical marijuana - WRBL


Dr. Campbell: Seizures and medical marijuana

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Marijuana has been in the news a lot lately with Washington and Colorado both legalizing the recreational use of it, but it has also been in the news for it's medical benefits when it comes to the treatment of seizures.

So what is a seizure, exactly?

A seizure is the physical findings or changes in behavior that occur after an episode of abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

Seizures of all types are caused by disorganized and sudden electrical activity in the brain.

There are many different types of seizures--they can be what we call tonic-clonic (shaking and jerking) or also "absence" seizures—where a patient stares blankly into space. All seizures are due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain and can be diagnosed by a specialist called a neurologist—often using EEG (brain wave testing) to determine where the seizure is coming from

Specific symptoms depend on what part of the brain is involved. They occur suddenly and symptoms include:

  • Brief blackout followed by period of confusion (the person cannot remember a period of time)
  • Changes in behavior such as picking at one's clothing
  • Drooling or frothing at the mouth
  • Eye movements
  • Grunting and snorting
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Mood changes such as sudden anger, unexplainable fear, panic, joy, or laughter
  • Shaking of the entire body
  • Sudden falling
  • Tasting a bitter or metallic flavor
  • Teeth clenching
  • Temporary halt in breathing
  • Uncontrollable muscle spasms with twitching and jerking limbs

As for the treatment of seizures, there are various ways to address them. One way is a strain of marijuana called "Charlotte's Web."

The marijuana is processed into an extract that is high in cannabidiol (CBD) content called Realm Oil and Alepsia. The extract does not include the psychoactive high typically associated with recreational marijuana use.

Charlotte's Web is named after Charlotte Figi, whose parents say she experienced a reduction of her epileptic seizures after her first dose of medical marijuana at five years of age.

According to Paige Figi's blog, her daughter's seizures fell from 300 a week to around 3 over an 8-month period. She does note the program was first approved by a team of neurologists and pediatricians.

The cannabidiol seems to act as a neuro-stabilizer, but doctors do not completely understand why it works to prevent seizures.

In some studies, CBD has been found to be effective at treating not just epilepsy but also at stopping metastasis in many kinds of aggressive cancer and at killing cancerous cells found in people with leukemia.

There is debate on both sides as to the efficacy of CBD for seizures—in fact, a 2012 Cochrane review of all published randomized controlled trials involving the treatment of marijuana or one of marijuana's constituents in people with epilepsy concluded that "no reliable conclusions can be drawn at present regarding the efficacy of cannabinoids as a treatment for epilepsy."

Many have asked what difference there is between Charlotte's Web and marijuana used for recreational purposes.

The answer is Charlotte's Web was developed by four brothers in Colorado through a process of breeding which created a variety with less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and more cannabidiol (CBD) than typical varieties of marijuana.

The marijuana that produces the "high" is high in THC. Charlotte's Web contains the CBD extract—this has been shown in numerous clinical trials to NOT produce any of the negative effects seen with THC. There have been several cases reported where Charlotte's Web improved seizure control-- the treatment was low in THC, the compound associated with the psychoactive properties of marijuana, and high in cannabidiol, which is not psychoactive and is instead believed to be medicinal.

The bottom line is that we need more research to be done. We need to better understand the long term, developmental effects—it is clear that it does work for some children and we need to figure out exactly what factors predict success. 

Dr. Kevin Campbell appears on WNCN Today at 6:15 a.m. on Wednesdays.

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.

Copyright WNCN 2014. All rights reserved.

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