Cannabidiol in the Quest to Cure Epilepsy

25th March 2019

Cannabidiol is fast becoming an alternative way to develop health cures in Big Pharma - will epilepsy be finally cured?

Over the past two years, CBD has become almost unavoidable. Once a little-known chemical compound, CBD has risen to astonishing prominence in public life to the point that CBD has been labelled a “craze”. As a result of this increased prominence, CBD has also become more widely used, primarily in the management of a variety of different health conditions.

What is CBD?

There are over 100 different chemical compounds found in the hemp or marijuana plants; these chemical compounds are collectively known as “cannabinoids”. Cannabidiol – which is more commonly known as CBD – is one of these cannabinoids.

Ref: World Health Organisation

While the exact mechanism of CBD is still a subject of debate and research, it is thought that CBD interacts with two types of receptors in the brain. CBD selectively blocks cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the brain, while simultaneously binding to, and activates, cannabinoid receptors 2 (CB2). Given that CB2 receptors are crucial in protecting the body against inflammation and injury, CBD’s ability to activate these receptors is incredibly beneficial to overall health.

Does CBD cause a “high”?

As CBD can be derived from marijuana plants, many people immediately assume that CBD oil – or other products – will produce a “high” or “stoned” feeling when used, but this is simply not the case.

When using marijuana, people experience a “high” due to the presences of a specific cannabinoid: Tetrahydrocannabinol, which is most commonly abbreviated to THC. While THC and CBD are related, they are very different compounds. Think of the difference as similar to chess and chequers: while both games are played on a board containing 64 squares,the games are very, very different. It’s the same with THC and CBD; they have something in common, yes, but they differ significantly.

Unlike THC, CBD is not psychoactive, so it will not produce a “high” or “stoned” feeling when used. When CBD products are manufactured, THC is usually removed entirely.

As a result, CBD products are designed not to cause a feeling of being “high”, but to help relieve a variety of health conditions.

Which conditions can CBD help to treat?

CBD has become associated with alleviating a wide range of health conditions, ranging from mood disorders – such as anxiety and depression – to chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia.

However, CBD has become particularly associated with the treatment of epilepsy, as we will discuss in more detail below.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that is thought to affect the lives of around 50 million people worldwide. A person with epilepsy will usually experience spontaneous – and unpredictable – seizures. For some people with epilepsy, the seizures are relatively mild “clonic” seizures, which cause periods of confusion, muscle spasms, and rapid eye movements. In more severe cases, epilepsy can cause serious “grand mal” seizures; in these seizures, the person with epilepsy will usually lose consciousness and experience whole-body convulsions.

The number of seizures a person with epilepsy experiences is entirely subjective. Some will experience multiple seizures per day, while others will only experience one or two per year. As a result, epilepsy is considered to be a spectrum disorder due to the significant variance in both severity and frequency of seizures individuals diagnosed with the condition will experience.

Whilst epilepsy is not a new condition, it has become a more commonly-discussed subject in the past 50 years thanks to the work of the Epilepsy Foundation.

How is epilepsy treated?

There are many conventional treatments available for people with epilepsy, ranging from daily medication regimens through to surgical procedures designed to remove lesions on the brain.

Unfortunately, success rates for treatment tend to vary significantly between individuals- for some, medication alone can control seizures, while others continue to experience seizures even after medication and surgical interventions.

Furthermore, some people with epilepsy find the side effects of conventional epilepsy treatment challenging, even if treatment is relatively successful.

Can CBD be used to treat epilepsy?

While CBD has demonstrated the ability to assist with the management of a number of different health conditions, its role in epilepsy treatment is perhaps the most note-worthy of all.

  • An observational study on 15 patients with epilepsy has produced exciting results. The patients received CBD for varying lengths of time – one month to a full calendar year – and their observations were then recorded. During the study, 27% of patients reported no seizures at all, while 40% reported a decrease in the number of seizures.
  • A full double-blind study on children with Dravet syndrome – a neurological disorder that can cause seizures, and can be challenging to treat – also showed promising results. In total, 120 children were provided with either a daily CBD oral solution or a placebo. In the group that received CBD, the number of convulsive seizures reduced from 12.4 to 5.9, while 5% of the CBD group experienced no seizures at all during the study.
  • Two further studies have also helped to confirm the efficacy of CBD in the treatment of both Dravet syndrome and another form of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

These successful studies have been accepted by the medical community; for example, in the United Kingdom, CBD was recently approved for the treatment of epilepsy in children.

It is also important to note that the research into CBD’s potential as a treatment for epilepsy is at a relatively early stage, and more studies and research are ongoing at present. Given that many instances of epilepsy are notoriously resistant to treatment, and patient adherence to medication can be a cause for concern, the continued acceptance of CBD could be crucial for people with epilepsy in future.

Why are people attracted to CBD?

For some people, the attraction of CBD is based on the science. CBD’s ability to help with the management of health conditions – including, but not limited to, epilepsy – is relatively well-established, so people are more inclined to try CBD in an effort to manage their own conditions.

In particular, CBD is often adopted by those who have attempted to find remedies for their health conditions through conventional treatment methods – those who are experiencing so-called “refractory” conditions.

It is also worth noting the fact that CBD is a naturally-occurring compound – which is undeniably attractive to those who are tempted to try CBD for themselves.

Ref: Case For Cannabis

What CBD treatments are available?

For the most part, CBD is offered as an oral treatment, with CBD oil – CBD in a carrier oil, such as hemp oil – arguably the most common choice. Most CBD oils are available in a variety of strengths, which tend to range from 100mg to up to 10,000mg. To take, CBD oil – which has a somewhat musty, herbaceous taste – is usually applied in drops beneath the tongue, and then swallowed after around three minutes.

CBD oil has been the most common form of treatment, there are now other options available if preferred. CBD capsules allows users to take standard CBD oil without needing to actively taste the oil, as well as ensuring the same dosage is taken each time. In addition, long-wear CBD patches are also available, and skin balms and lotions have also become more popular in recent years.

Finally, CBD “juice” can be used to vape CBD in an e-cigarette, with flavourings added to improve the taste experience for the user.

How widely available is CBD?

For many years, CBD was only available from niche stores in certain parts of the world, with a small number of online stores also offering the product in limited quantities. However, CBD’s availability has changed significantly in recent years, making it an option for more people who may benefit from it.

Offline, the availability of CBD depends on the legal position of CBD within each area. Many jurisdictions around the world have struggled to disassociate CBD from its psychotropic brother, THC. As a result, CBD is restricted or outright illegal in some regions, including the majority of US states.

However, where CBD is legal, availability has spiked significantly. CBD has now moved from niche retailers to the mainstream; in the UK and Australia, for example, CBD products can be bought on the high street at “vape shops” or health stores, and many drug stores in the USA stock CBD alongside their usual product range.

However, as with many products, CBD is truly flourishing online. There are dozens of different CBD specialist ecommerce stores that carry a range of CBD products, as well as general stores such as

As a result, we can conclude that CBD is widely available, and most individuals who wish to purchase the product should find they are able to do so – though some may struggle with enforcement issues related to confusion over the legal status of CBD as a whole.

What do professionals think of CBD’s popularity?

For the most part, medical doctors have welcomed the benefits that CBD can offer. Many doctors now prescribe or recommend CBD to their patients regularly, and overwhelmingly, CBD has been well adopted.

However, while most professionals have embraced the possibilities of CBD, there are some reservations that will need to be clarified in the future. In particular, some doctors are concerned with confusion over dosage, potential contraindications, and regulations. To encourage further medical adoption in future, these issues will need to be addressed by the CBD industry as a whole.

Is “big pharma” involved in CBD?

Some CBD proponents suggest that big pharmaceutical companies are effectively “anti” CBD offerings, fearing that CBD is a competitor for their own medications. However, while this may be true in some cases, many pharmaceutical companies are embracing the possibilities of CBD and are seeking to further research and development on the potential benefits CBD can offer.

Why is CBD stigmatized?

It would be impossible to discuss the “CBD craze” without focusing on a rather concerning aspect: the stigma.

As we have touched on above, in some jurisdictions, CBD remains criminalised – even though it is literally a naturally-occurring chemical compound that has no psychoactive effect. In addition, CBD is also stigmatised by some retailers and members of the general public.

Given that the efficacy of CBD has been demonstrated in numerous studies, and confirmed by thousands of users worldwide, the stigma surrounding CBD may initially seem rather confusing – but unfortunately, the issue is all too easy to identify. The reason CBD remains somewhat stigmatised is simple: the association with the word “marijuana”.

For the vast majority of people, the word “marijuana” is synonymous with recreational cannabis use. While this association is unfair – as we discussed, it is THC, not CBD, that is the reason marijuana is a popular recreational drug – it nevertheless holds firm in the minds of many.

For CBD to continue to thrive and overcome the stigma it continues to experience, disassociating the cannabinoid from marijuana is essential. While great strides have already been achieved in this area, there is clearly more work to be done. There are a number of ways this can be achieved, with general public awareness campaigns arguably the most important. The continual reinforcement of the difference between CBD and THC, as well as information regarding the fact that CBD is not only derived from marijuana plants, could also be beneficial when seeking to realise this goal.

What is the future for CBD?

The future of CBD is extremely bright, even with the question regarding the involvement of big pharma in the path of development. More and more studies have shown users benefiting from the use of CBD and, slowly but surely, the stigma is beginning to lift. As acknowledgement of the potential benefits of CBD becomes more widespread, the growth of CBD as an industry also grows; it is expected that total hemp-derived CBD sales will rise from 264m in 2018 to 646m in 2022, leading to a total industry worth of $22m.

Given all of the above, it is fair to assume that the recent “CBD craze” is not a craze at all, but a sign of a genuine paradigm shift that is likely to lead to CBD being widely embraced across the world.

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