It has shown promise for two severe epilepsy types in particular.
In June 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made headlines. For the first time, it approved a drug with an ingredient derived from cannabis. Known as Epidiolex, this medication contained cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound from the cannabis plant. The FDA approved this cannabis-derived medication for the treatment of rare forms of epilepsy.
“[Epidiolex] has been studied very extensively actually in the pediatric population with two very difficult-to-control seizure syndromes that are very devastating,” says Padmaja Kandula, MD, neurologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian.
These two severe forms of epilepsy—Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome—primarily affect young children. The two syndromes have previously resisted many types of treatment. Not only was Epidiolex the first drug approved with a cannabis-derived ingredient, but it was also the first drug approved specifically for Dravet syndrome, according to the FDA.
For this reason, CBD offers hope. “It’s had very good results in those two seizure syndromes, and people are actually looking to see if it might be helpful in other syndromes,” says Dr. Kandula.
Be Careful What You Buy
These days, you can find CBD in dispensaries, online, in wellness shops, and even in some convenience stores. At trendy coffee shops, you can even have your barista add drops of CBD to your latte. In other words, CBD is everywhere. However, this is not the same as Epidiolex.
“The CBD or the cannabidiol or gummies ... that you find over the counter are not approved for seizure control since they’re very low dose,” says Dr. Kandula. “They may have limited benefits for people, such as helping with sleep or anxiety. However, if you do use any of those, you do need to tell your doctor or your neurologist and get these approved ahead of time.”
When it comes to over-the-counter CBD, do your research. Even if CBD is suspected to be a low-risk supplement, it can be a pricey product. CBD is not a cure-all, so talk to your doctor and read from trusted sources before making the investment and getting your hopes up.
As for epilepsy, there are a variety of ways to manage the condition and reduce seizures. Learn more about treatment options for epilepsy here.
Dr. Kandula is a neurologist specializing in seizures and epilepsy at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian in New York City.
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CBD has become really, really popular,
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and the CBD or cannabidiol that is used to treat epilepsy
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is a little bit different.
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There's a medication that has been FDA approved.
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This is very, very high-dose cannabidiol
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extracted from the cannabis sativa plant.
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This has been studied very extensively actually
in the pediatric population
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with two very difficult-to-control seizure syndromes
that are very devastating.
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The research is still ongoing, but it's very promising.
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The CBD or the cannabidiol gummies or chews
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that you find over the counter are not approved
for seizure control.
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However, you know, people can use that in small amounts.
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They may have limited benefits for people
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such as helping with sleep or anxiety.
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The CBD or cannabidiol that is used to treat epilepsy
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doesn't include what we call THC,
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or the psychoactive form that makes people high.
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Marijuana does not have a direct connection
with seizures either.
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However, use of the medication or substances
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that are not prescribed can cause thinking problems
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If you do use any of those, you do need to tell your doctor
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or your neurologist and get those approved ahead of time.
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- Dravet syndrome: management and prognosis. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2020. (Accessed on June 3, 2020)
- Epilepsy. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. (Accessed on June 3, 2020)
- FDA approves first drug comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy. Washington, DC: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2018. (Accessed on June 3, 2020)
- FDA regulation of cannabis and cannabis-derived products, including cannabidiol (CBD). Washington, DC: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2020. (Accessed on June 3, 2020)
- Treatment for epilepsy & seizures. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Medicine. (Accessed on June 3, 2020)