Even though the cannabis plant has a long history of medicinal use, with evidence dating back to 2,737 BCE, it’s still a subject of hot controversy. It appears to be a standing battle between politics and science. The legality requires proof of medical marijuana’s effectiveness. Reports of success are anecdotal. Yet there are no funds for clinical trials and it remains on a back burner for further NIH funding and research. (Wow. What a surprise!)
Dr. Ben Whalley, who is leading the research at the department of pharmacy at the University of Reading, said: “There was a stigma associated with cannabis that came out from the 60s and 70s associated with recreational use, so people have tended not to look at it medicinally as a result.”
But now, some experts are calling for fresh research into the potential of cannabis-like compounds to help alleviate seizures. Because further evidence has emerged that an ingredient of cannabis could help prevent epileptic seizures.
Marijuana contains numerous cannabinoid compounds that differ in convulsing and anticonvulsant properties. Anticonvulsant properties were first noted in the 15th century, yet studies in humans remain slow…to none at all.
The same brain machinery that responds to the active substance in marijuana provides a central “on-demand” protection against seizures, researchers have found. They said their discoveries suggest that the “endocannabinoid” system might constitute a prime target for drugs against seizures of epilepsy and other neurodegenerative diseases.
The endocannabinoid system – which includes the receptors, the natural cannabinoid compounds that trigger them, as well as the machinery for regulating the process – was already known to modulate the excitation of neuronal transmission, noted researchers. However, it had not been established that such modulation might affect neurons in the hippocampus responsible for the “excitotoxicity” that underlies the uncontrolled activity of seizures.
Dr. Whalley, said tests in animals had shown the compounds effective at preventing seizures and convulsions while also having less side effects than existing epilepsy drugs. These compounds are very well tolerated and you are not seeing the same kind of side effects that you get with the existing treatments. The scientists, whose latest findings on the compounds are published in the scientific journal “Seizure”, believe the compounds work by interfering with the sudden bursts of electrical activity that signal the brain to become hyper-excitable, leading to epileptic seizures.
“Cannabis is thought of being a treasure trove of compounds that could be used for pharmacological development. We have a list of around a dozen potential candidates for epilepsy and have tested three that show promise.” – Ben Walley, MD
“Twenty-one percent of subjects had used marijuana in the past year with the majority of active users reporting beneficial effects on seizures. Twenty-four percent of all subjects believed marijuana was an effective therapy for epilepsy.” From a survey published in the journal “Neurology.”
“Despite limited evidence of efficacy, many patients with epilepsy believe marijuana is an effective therapy for epilepsy and are actively using it.” - Donald Gross, MD
Proponents of medical marijuana argue that it can be a safe and effective treatment for the symptoms of cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, pain, glaucoma, epilepsy, and other conditions. They cite dozens of peer-reviewed studies, prominent medical organizations, major government reports, and the use of marijuana as medicine throughout world history.
Opponents of medical marijuana argue that it is too dangerous to use, lacks FDA-approval, and that various legal drugs make marijuana use unnecessary. They say marijuana is addictive, leads to harder drug use, interferes with fertility, impairs driving ability, and injures the lungs, immune system, and brain. They say that medical marijuana is a front for drug legalization and recreational use.
“Individuals both here and abroad report that marijuana has been therapeutic for them in the treatment of a variety of ailments, including epilepsy. But the psychoactive side effects of marijuana make its use impractical in the treatment of epilepsy. If we can understand how marijuana works to end seizures, we may be able to develop novel drugs that might do a better job of treating epileptic seizures.” - Robert DeLorenzo, MD, PhD, MPH
Despite that, marijuana is becoming more and more increasingly popular for medicinal use. Medical marijuana has even been called by some researchers as the “21st Century’s Miracle Drug.” There are many reasons why people may prefer using marijuana instead of prescription drugs for epileptic seizures including cost, side effects, and better results.
Marijuana patients report reduction in headaches as well as reduction in seizures when using cannabis instead of conventional medication. Many investigating physicians also state that the use of medicinal marijuana along with prescription barbiturates can completely control epilepsy, with no symptoms at all.
Cannabis analogues have been shown to prevent seizures when given in combination with prescription drugs. Patients report that they can wean themselves off prescription drugs, and still not experience seizures, if they have a regular supply of cannabis.
However, the effect that marijuana has on antiepileptic medication blood levels is largely unknown. Many legal and illegal ingested substances can alter levels of antiepileptic medications, leading to increases seizures or toxic side effects. Use of marijuana can negatively affect memory (which is also a well known side effect of many antiepileptic drugs), that in turn can lead to missed medication doses and result in an increased risk of seizures.
So far, seventeen states - Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington - and the District of Columbia have passed laws providing for limited legal protections from arrest for authorized patients who use cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation. BUT a doctor may not prescribe it.
Pain Management of America http://www.medicalmarijuana.net/ is a clearing house for state by state legal medical marijuana dispensaries and clinics…patient resources…plus uses and treatments.
Meanwhile, the FDA has approved Marinol, a prescription drug which contains synthetic THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. But Marinol lacks cannabidiol (CBD), which is the element that has been found to have anti-seizure effects.
And you can guess the punch line. Marijuana itself is the only source of cannabidiol (CBD) and the other cannabinoids that help control seizures. So for those of us who have epilepsy, Marinol may be a moot point.
Obviously more data is needed, animal studies and clinical experience suggest that marijuana or its active constituents may have a place in the treatment of partial epilepsy. Anecdotal data suggests that marijuana use may be a beneficial adjunctive treatment in some patients with epilepsy. Although challenging because of current federal regulations.
“To Whom It May Concern:
I was trapped, prevented from seeing my friends and family. Recollections of masks of blood, five failed brain surgeries, countless drugs, and thousands of seizures, imprisoned me in Colorado, away from my loved ones residing in my home state of New Jersey.
Discovery of a curing anti-epileptic was bleak, as hope began to fade.
Then, after 11 years, I began utilizing my sole effective treatment – the medicinal use of marijuana, as a state-registered medical marijuana patient. There was only one problem that remained, I couldn’t return home to share my remedied state of health with my family. Acknowledging that an abrupt abandonment of the drug would provoke seizures, and aware of the fact that marijuana was illegal in New Jersey, I was barred from visitation.
Until now, when I have been presented the opportunity to safely return home under New Jersey’s recently enacted medical marijuana legislation. A current senior at Colorado State University, I am at last able to spend time with my loved ones healthy.”
“I had my first seizure at 15. The older I got, the more often the grand mal seizures would occur. After having an automobile accident because of seizing, I aggressively sought an answer for this problem. There was no answer, just experiments. My physicians put me on so much medication, the whites of my eyes were yellow because they were destroying my liver. I was also experiencing kidney problems for the first time in my life. Even after being medicated, I was still having seizures. At that point I decided to stop relying on traditional medication. I have been smoking cannabis for almost three years without having one seizure. My eyes are now clear and I am no longer suffering from all the side affects of the pharmaceuticals. My quality of life has improved 100 per cent” - Ann
“It’s a matter between doctors and patients, and if doctors want to prescribe medical marijuana to relieve pain, compassion requires that the government support that. And so as president of the United States, I would make sure that our Justice Department was mindful that we should be taking a compassionate approach.” - Dennis Kucinich, US Representative (D-OH) and 2008 Democratic Candidate for U.S. President
“With respect to medical marijuana, you know I think that we have had a lot of rhetoric and the federal government has been very intent upon trying to prevent states from being able to offer that as an option for people who are in pain. I think we should be doing medical research on this. We ought to find what are the elements that claim to be existing in marijuana that might help people who are suffering from cancer and nausea-related treatments. We ought to find that out. I don’t think we should decriminalize it, but we ought to do research into what, if any, medical benefits it has.” - Hillary Rodham Clinton
“Marijuana use appeared to be a protective factor against first seizures in men. [...] Marijuana contains numerous cannabinoid compounds that differ in convulsant and anticonvulsant properties. Anticonvulsant properties were first noted in the 15th century, yet studies in humans have been few. [...] The authors conclude that heroin use is a risk factor and marijuana use a protective factor for new-onset seizures.” - John C. M. Brust
“There is scientific evidence to suggest that cannabis may be beneficial in treating a number of conditions, including epilepsy…. Some reports suggest that it can reduce seizures. Other reports point to an increase in seizures.” - May 3, 2006, British Epilepsy Association
“I have found in my study of these patients that cannabis is really a safe, effective and non-toxic alternative to many standard medications. There is no such thing as an overdose. We have seen very minimal problems with abuse or dependence, which at worst are equivalent to dependence on caffeine. While a substance may have some potential for misuse, in my opinion, that’s a poor excuse to deny its use and benefit to everyone else.” - Philip Denney, MD
“I want to go one step further, because this whole issue of drugs in our society is misplaced. Drugs have infected the society, but I think we need to look at it more as a medical and a health issue than as a criminal justice issue.” - Dennis Kucinich
For states that allow medical marijuana see http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000881
10 States Have Pending Legislation to Legalize Medical Marijuana http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=002481
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