Can You Use CBD To Treat Epilepsy?

If you or someone you know has epilepsy, you may be looking for ways to reduce symptoms. Mayo Clinic describes epilepsy as a condition of the central nervous system triggered by abnormal brain activity. Seizure is the defining symptom of epilepsy, but seizures can manifest in many ways and occur with varying intensity and frequency. Currently, there is no cure for epilepsy. But cannabidiol (CBD) derived from hemp has shown promise for relieving the severity and frequency of symptoms (via Healthline). 

CBD is one of the hemp plant's principal active ingredients. Although cannabis may contain CBD, the substance cannabidiol (CBD) is not a precursor for marijuana's psychotropic effects. But Harvard Health Publishing says studies and self-reporting show that hemp-derived CBD may alleviate symptoms that are often difficult to treat using other medications, without mind-altering effects. And CBD shows high promise for treating epileptic seizures. It seems to be especially effective for childhood epileptic conditions typically unresponsive to drugs, including Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS). But how does CBD help alleviate epilepsy symptoms, and are there any risks?

CBD offers hope for epilepsy symptoms

Epilepsy symptoms can manifest as tonic-clonic seizures, traditionally called grand mal seizures. Tonic-clonic seizures, defined by uncontrollable jerking, shaking, and stiffening of the entire body, are the most severe type of seizures. However, Mayo Clinic explains that epileptic seizures can appear vastly different from person to person. Seizures can manifest as prolonged staring, temporary confusion, anxiety, fear, loss of consciousness, stiffening muscles, or localized twitching in one or more body parts. Any manifestation of epileptic seizure can be frightening. Some could result in a slew of physical and emotional complications, up to sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP).

But CBD offers hope, says the Neurology Center for Epilepsy and Seizures. Although the exact mechanisms by which CBD works to help mitigate seizures are unknown, researchers believe CBD interacts with the brain's natural endocannabinoid system to influence a wide range of physical functions. Further studies are needed to discover precisely how CBD works in the brain to help with epilepsy; for now, it's enough for some to know that it can.

Severe epilepsy leading to death is rare, affecting around 1% of people with epilepsy. People who suffer from frequent tonic-clonic seizures and those with epilepsy that does not respond to medication are most at risk of SUDEP. This is where CBD may prove most beneficial. A 2017 review details three high-quality trials in which CBD was shown to reduce the frequency of tonic-clonic and drop seizures. This research suggests CBD could be a life-saving modality for those with severe or frequent seizures.

CBD is considered relatively safe. However, Cedars-Sinai warns of risks associated with prescription drug interactions while taking CBD. Be sure to ask your doctor before taking CBD if you take any prescription medications — particularly blood thinners (via Harvard Health Publishing).