- A preliminary investigation suggests that pharmaceutical-grade CBD (cannabidiol) might help control difficult seizures caused by Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC), a rare genetic disorder that results in seizures in 90% of cases.
- CBD is different from THC, the compound that’s responsible for the ‘high’ from marijuana. CBD is found in larger amounts in hemp, a type of cannabis that contains very little THC.
- Experts are not sure why CBD can help control severe seizures, as it seems to work differently than standard antiseizure drugs.
- In a 16-week study, participants who took CBD saw their seizure frequency decrease by almost 50%, compared to a 27% decrease in the placebo group.
- While CBD has become popular and is found in many products, it is important to note, that the CBD referred to in this study is a pharmaceutical grade, FDA-approved CBD, which is different from the CBD found in general stores.
A preliminary investigation indicates that pharmaceutical-grade CBD (cannabidiol), a compound found in certain plants, might help manage otherwise difficult-to-control seizures caused by Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC), a rare genetic disorder.
Tuberous Sclerosis Complex and Its Impact
Around one in every 6,000 individuals is affected by TSC, according to data from the U.S. National Institutes of Health. This genetic condition triggers the growth of noncancerous tumors throughout the entire body and, in 90% of cases, results in seizures that are commonly resistant to standard medications.
The Potential of Cannabidiol
Researchers are keen to explore whether patients suffering from TSC might respond positively to Epidiolex, a liquid medical form that comprises purified CBD.
Last year, Epidiolex got approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for managing two rare seizure disorders, namely Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. This marked it as the first approved medication comprising an ingredient sourced from cannabis plants.
CBD stands out as a unique compound found in cannabis, also known as marijuana. Its nature differentiates it from THC, which causes the well-known ‘high’ effect related to marijuana. While CBD is also present in marijuana, it exists in larger quantities in hemp, a type of cannabis plant which contains very little THC.
The Mystery Surrounding CBD’s Effects
Despite the approval of Epidiolex, researchers still remain uncertain about why pharmaceutical-grade CBD can assist in the management of severe seizures.
All standard antiseizure drugs function through similar mechanisms, but CBD appears to approach them differently. Dr. Elizabeth Thiele, who spearheaded the new study, asserts that CBD’s working mechanism is still relatively unknown. It seems to have a unique pathway in its influence, which remains to be fully understood.
In a study funded by GW Research Ltd., the maker of Epidiolex, Thiele and her team examined the drug’s efficacy amongst 224 TSC patients in six different countries. Half of these patients were younger than 11 years old and typically had already tried four antiseizure drugs with scarce success or intolerable side effects.
Results: Influencing Seizure Frequency
Patients were randomly assigned to consume either 25mg or 50mg of Epidiolex daily, or a placebo, in conjunction with their standard antiseizure medicines. Over a period of 16 weeks, patients who consumed either dosage of CBD were more likely to experience an improvement. On average, their seizure frequency decreased by almost 50%, compared to a 27% fall in the placebo group. Patients who received the higher dosage were also likelier to obtain at least a 50% reduction in their seizure frequency.
Still, according to Thiele, “It’s not a magic bullet. It doesn’t help everyone.” The efficacy of Epidiolex seems to vary among individuals.
A moderate benefit over placebo was evident with Epidiolex, based on the 16-week results, but there remains a need for additional research to assess how these benefits endure over time, whether patients might grow accustomed to the medication, or whether its efficacy might improve over time.
Side Effects and CBD’s Growing Popularity
Vomiting, appetite loss, and sleepiness are the most common side effects of CBD. Surprisingly, the oil in the medication might be responsible for these side effects, at least in part. Out of all patients in the trial, 11% on the lower dosage and 14% at the higher one exited the trial due to side effects, compared with just 3% from the placebo group.
The popularity of CBD products has recently erupted following Congress’s decision to lift the longstanding prohibition on hemp cultivation. The compound is now omnipresent in various products, including oils, lotions, coffee, and even cookies. So far, the strongest scientific evidence for CBD use lies in treating certain seizures.
But Thiele wants to emphasize the difference between Epidiolex, the FDA-approved, prescription-grade CBD, and the CBD products easily found at your local store. “This is not your garden-variety CBD,’ Thiele says. ‘It’s been vetted by the FDA. You know what you’re getting.'”
For more on seizure treatments, visit the Epilepsy Foundation here.