The history of human use of the Cannabis plant goes back to the dawn of mankind. Originating in Central Asia or in the foothills of the Himalayas, cannabis was primarily used for human consumption, seed and fiber production. It gradually spread all over the globe and it was then used for its fiber and recreational purposes (due to its psychoactive compounds). The first studies on the medical use of cannabis date back to the Chinese empire in about 2700 B.C. Written tablet records of medical applications by the Sumerian and Akkadian in around 1800 B.C. mention the use of a medicinal plant, like cannabis, to treat a variety of ailments. Also Arabic and Islamic literature mention explicitly about cannabis as a treatment tool for seizures and epilepsy.
Cannabis And Epilepsy A 176-Year-Old Connection
The interest in cannabis-based products for the treatment of refractory epilepsy has escalated in recent years. Over the years, this has led to increasing use of cannabis extracts in seizure disorders, particularly in children. The U.S government holds a patent assigned to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and filed on 21st April 1998, where they describe cannabinoids, derived from the cannabis plant, as antioxidant and neuroprotective.
Even though we know so much about the health benefits of cannabis products, then why haven’t we seen full-fledged research and availability of these products. The answer is that the medicinal properties of this naturally occurring plant are being overlooked by the big pharmaceutical companies. If we have the answers of cancer cure (which some studies suggests: cannabis obliterates the cancer cells) or various ailments in nature, then why would we go for these synthetic drugs which the pharma companies produce. This very fact puts the profitable market of the pharma companies at stake and for being against corporate interests, it led to cannabis being regulated and tabooed since the rise of an industrial revolution in the 1900s. This has been the greatest hindrance as to why there are no significant clinical trials of using cannabis to treat different medical conditions like epilepsy.
As the legalization movement has succeeded in many countries, these big pharma companies are now trying to enter into the medical cannabis market. These have raised concerns among many citizens since who would know what pesticides are now going to spread on the plant or if they are being genetically modified and how far these cannabis-derived drugs will be beneficial. Pharmaceutical marijuana will definitely be different from naturally grown and its properties and effects will also differ.
Cannabis And Epilepsy
Cannabinoids have numerous and complex pharmacological properties. The biological actions of cannabinoids are mediated by their interaction with the receptors that are present in our body’s endocannabinoid system. Extensive evidence has now accumulated that endocannabinoids play an important role in the control of synaptic transmission and the regulation of the rate of firing of neurons. Many experimental studies have demonstrated that endogenous cannabinoids systems are altered in a variety of models of seizures, epilepsy, and epileptogenesis, whereas external modulation of these systems can prevent or modulate seizure activity.
However, people with epilepsy are having a hard time accessing medical marijuana. These needs often go unfulfilled due to strict regulations on cannabis and difficulty in finding the right strain. In 2017, then-eleven-year-old, Colorado resident and medical marijuana patient Alexis Bortell joined other plaintiffs in a lawsuit against anti-marijuana Attorney General Jeff Sessions over federal scheduling of cannabis. She had to have access to pure and natural cannabis for her medical conditions. Unfortunately, her family had to move out of Texas to Colorado just to get access to pure medical marijuana to treat her severe epilepsy.
The first detailed modern description of the usage of cannabis-based products as an anti-seizure medication was published in 1843 by W.B. O’Shaughnessy, a physician in the Bengal Army and professor of Chemistry and Materia Medica at the Medical College of Calcutta. After testing the behavioral effects of various preparations of Cannabis indica in healthy fishes, dogs, swine, vultures, crows, horses, deer, monkeys, goats, sheep, cows, and military assistance, he investigated the potential value of extracts of the plant in patients with different disorders. He also reported remarkable anti-seizure effects in a 40-day-old baby girl with recurrent convulsive seizures.
These observations were also taken up by other physicians, including Sir William Gowers, who described the effectiveness of Cannabis indica against seizures. However, as the 20th century dawned, the cannabis plant was made illegal in view of corporate interests and hence research and medical studies on the effects of cannabis on various medical conditions declined. Since 2008 there has been only about a hundred published scientific papers on cannabis and epilepsy.
Gwenevere Repetski, a 3 year old (as of 2015) was diagnosed with epilepsy, a debilitating neurological disorder that had left her developmentally delayed. Disappointed at the lack of treatment options her father Alex Repetski spent a long time going through scientific evidence on CBD use in treating tonic, myoclonic, and clinical seizures. Gwenevere was experiencing constant subclinical seizure activity throughout the day and sometimes the count would be up to 50 per day.
The team of doctors working with her gave up to 9 different medications hoping one would work for her. However none were successful. That's was when Alex decided to go for cannabis oil (CBD oil) trying to help his daughter achieve a better quality of life. He acquired the right dosage of pure CBD oil and within a week of its use, Gwenevere had no seizures at all. The seizure count reduced drastically over a period of 2 months. When she went for her 17th EEG after continued 12 weeks use, her doctors were baffled. The cannabis oil had helped straighten out her brainwaves, working at the subclinical level. This overjoyed her parents.
In a similar case, Charlotte Figi, a girl who was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy-Dravet syndrome had multiple seizures in a day. When all conventional medications failed to work on her, her parents turned in to CBD oil. Since the use of the CBD oil, Charlotte recovered from her condition and her seizure count was now as low as 1 in a month, prior to what was more than fifty a day.
Dr. Orrin Devinsky, a researcher at New York University's Langone Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, has done a safety study on the use of an extract of CBD. He looked at the daily seizure logs of 137 patients, most of them children, who took purified form of CBD for three months and found that the number of seizures decreased by an average of 54% from the beginning of the study till the end.
Similar research by Dr. Kevin Chapman at the University of Colorado on 58 young patients who used various types of CBD oils found that less than a third of them reported a significant drop in seizures.
The medicinal properties of naturally occurring cannabis has been ignored and suppressed by the pharma companies in their own corporate interests. Physicians are also brainwashed about its controversial nature. Overlooking all these, there is a serious and utter need of pure and natural cannabis extracts for many people who suffer from severe medical conditions.
The success stories of Gwenevere and Charlotte have encouraged many to explore the health benefits of cannabinoids like CBD. In the last decade, this has led to increasing use of CBD-enriched extracts as a potential treatment for epilepsy, particularly in children. Improvement in seizure control, often associated with additional benefits on sleep and behavior, have been reported in a sizeable proportion of cases. Hence, we have obtained conclusive evidence of their efficacy in some severe epilepsy syndromes and the recent legalization and easier regulations will help people in need.