An Overview of Medical Marijuana Usage in the Treatment of Epilepsy

What is epilepsy?

’What is Epilepsy?’ is a complicated question. Epilepsy is a well-known chronic disorder with unprovoked seizures being its major symptom. Patients with epilepsy have several kinds of seizures and may exhibit symptoms of neurological diseases at the same time. Usually, epileptics have similar EEG testing and family and clinical history, in which case their condition is often defined as a particular epilepsy syndrome.

The source of epilepsy is the human brain. Despite the fact that epilepsy symptoms could affect various parts of the human body, electrical events that are the main cause of the symptoms take place in the brain. The origin of these electric events, how and where exactly they spread, and for how long they last differs from patient to patient. These factors determine how dangerous the seizure is and the impact it can have on the patient.

A patient is not diagnosed with epilepsy until they have a minimum of two seizures that were not caused by a known and revocable medical condition, such as alcohol withdrawal or low blood sugar. Epileptic seizures are often related to a brain injury or family tendencies, but usually their cause is entirely unknown.


Epilepsy symptoms

As mentioned above, seizures are usually the most visible and most common symptom of epilepsy. There are several kinds of seizures and the signs of those seizures may differ, thus affecting patients in different ways. Seizures can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, during which patients may or may not be conscious. There are times when patients can recall what happened during the seizure, while they may not remember anything during other times.

There are certain seizures that are easy to identify and recognize, especially the ones that cause falls or stiffen the muscles. However, there are certain seizures that do not involve such reactions and can be difficult to identify and notice. Specific seizures cause the patient to stare into space, a situation that is often not even interpreted as a seizure. Other seizures may involve several muscle twitches and a turn of the head, visual disturbances or even a strange smell that only the patient notices.

The worst aspect of epileptic seizures is that they can happen any time without any warning, but some patients may have an idea at the beginning of a seizure. The end-point of a seizure occurs when the abnormal electrical activity in the brain stops and the brain functions normally again.

Seizures are often seen as synonymous with convolutions, however, this is not entirely correct. In convolutions, muscles jerk and twitch, which is just one of the many characteristics of seizures. There are certain seizures that cause convolutions, but this is not true for all. Moreover, epileptic seizures are often confused with psychogenic seizures. Actually, the two are very different because psychogenic seizures do not occur due to abnormal electrical functioning. A psychogenic seizure may be a psychological response to stress, injury, emotional trauma, or other factors. There can be several reasons behind what causes seizures, however, before we study that, we will look into the two types of seizures.


Partial seizures

Partial seizures are epileptic seizures that occur in particular parts of the brain and are of several specific types. Some of the most common ones include simple partial seizures, complex partial seizures, and partial seizures with secondary generalization.


Generalized seizures

Generalized seizures are epileptic seizures that begin over the entire brain, rather than being restricted to a single region. There are several kinds of generalized seizures, including generalized tonic-clonic seizures, absence seizures, myoclonic seizures, atonic seizures, and tonic seizures. All of these differ from each other in terms of characteristics, effects and even symptoms.


Causes of epilepsy

Every year there are around 180,000 new cases of epileptic patients and nearly 30 percent of that number occurs predominantly in infants. Infants and elderly adults are among the most common sufferers of epilepsy. One of the most common causes of epilepsy is due to some kind of brain injury. Low oxygen during birth is also one of the main causes of epilepsy. Other causes include head injury that occurred during birth or during youth, brain tumours, and certain genetic conditions that could result in brain injury, such as tuberous sclerosis. Moreover, infections like meningitis or encephalitis can also cause epilepsy. Strokes, alongside abnormal levels of substances like blood sugar and sodium, are popularly known as major causes of epilepsy.


Treatment for epilepsy

While there may be many treatments and ways to cure epilepsy, a rather unusual treatment is the use of medical marijuana to lessen the epileptic seizures and to cure epilepsy in general.

Several countries have a ban on marijuana usage, but there are countries where such use is legal. In those countries, patients have reported beneficial effects of medical marijuana in decreasing epileptic effects and seizure activity.

Medical marijuana experts have made a long list of medical conditions that can be treated with medical cannabis; epilepsy is one of these conditions. It is rather surprising to learn that several States have even specific laws that allow the use and prescription of marijuana for treating epilepsy.

Despite this, there is very little scientific research and literature to back up claims related to the usefulness of medical marijuana in treating epilepsy. A particular small and randomized yet controlled clinical trial shows the usefulness of marijuana in treating epileptic patients (Cunha, et al., 1980).

There are several reasons for limited research on medical marijuana, most of which are related to its legal implications. Most tests related to this substance are carried out on animals, so generalizations cannot be made. Moreover, the withdrawal effects of marijuana on seizures have not been investigated sufficiently. It has been noted that a person could be at a greater risk for seizures if they are used to taking marijuana but halt their use suddenly. Moreover, the consequences of marijuana on antiepileptic medication blood levels have not been identified. These are all the side effects and reasons why medical marijuana is still not used commonly in the treatment of epilepsy.

While there may be limited scientific data to support the usefulness of marijuana in human epilepsy treatment, there is still great anecdotal evidence of its benefits. Various epilepsy patients have admitted that they have used marijuana and found great relief. While some patients have taken medical marijuana on its own, others have used it in combination with other epilepsy treatments. Some epileptic patients have also admitted that although their bodies cannot tolerate other kinds of treatment, they have been able to use medical marijuana to successfully control their seizures.

Additionally, this drug is very prosperous in mitigating epileptic seizures and the biggest advantage is that it can do so without the side effects that conventional medicines and treatments may cause. The side effects of medical marijuana are usually mild and considered low-risk. Mood swings are the most common side effects; they are obviously tolerable and controllable to a much larger extent than other effects.

Some epileptics have even discovered and claimed that conventional medicine and treatments for epilepsy have the potential to cause psychological depression, whereas marijuana controls seizures without inducing any negative psychological conditions. This is probably one of the biggest benefits of using medical marijuana because depression can become troublesome in such a case.

While there are definitely reasons that support the reliance on medical marijuana during epilepsy treatment, there is still criticism and dangerous labels attached to the usage of this drug, which is precisely why it must be studied in detail.

There is no denying that medical marijuana may not be the most acceptable of treatments, but most traditional medicines and treatments are seen to come with their own set of harmful side effects. Hence, doctors who have specialized in the use of medical marijuana and epilepsy specialists must consult each other regarding the use of medical marijuana for the treatment of epilepsy to cure epileptic patients and improve their health conditions, even if an absolute cure may not be possible.




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