CBD has gained much of its notoriety because of the almost-miraculous results it has produced for many sufferers of epilepsy and other seizure disorders, especially in children. Many children with a seizure disorder have tried several different pharmaceuticals, and varying combinations thereof. The side effects of these drugs can include dependency, over-sedation, and cognitive impairment. In some cases, patients have what is called intractable epilepsy, which means that pharmaceutical drugs just don’t work.
This is where CBD has really shone. Charlotte Figi, a young girl with intractable epilepsy featured in Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s documentary series Weed (2013), brought national attention to the unquestionable benefit CBD can have for seizure disorders. She was also the inspiration for the hemp-based CBD product line called Charlotte’s Web.
Cannabidiol as an epileptic treatment has been of interest to researchers since the 1970s. Though studies conducted then and into the ’80s aren’t generally regarded as scientifically solid, the results in human and animal subjects were promising. Several studies support the idea that endocannabinoid deficiency may play a role in the development of seizures.1
According to a recent literature review, since 2013, 10 epilepsy centers in America have conducted research regarding the efficacy of cannabis to treat epilepsy. In most studies, trial doses of CBD were 2 to 5 mg/kg/day. Several such studies have shown that CBD does have efficacy for treatment of epilepsy. Reported adverse effects of CBD were mostly mild, including drowsiness, diarrhea, and decreased appetite. The review also underscored that further research is needed to understand the various mechanisms of CBD’s antiepileptic action.2
A 2013 study in Colorado of 11 patients found that all of them reported reduced frequency in seizures, with 73% reporting a near-complete, if not complete, reduction.3 A 2015 survey of 117 parents by pediatric neurologists at the UCLA Medical Center showed that 85% of parents reported a decrease in frequency in their children’s seizures, while 14% reported their children were seizure free.4
A small clinical study from 2017 enrolled five patients suffering from Sturge-Weber syndrome, a neurological disorder marked by a distinctive port-wine stain on the forehead, scalp, or around the eye.5 Over the 14 weeks of study, three of five had a greater than 50% reduction in seizures, and three remained on CBD long term after the study was completed. Another literature review conducted in 2017 confirmed CBD’s antiepileptic properties and pointed to GW Pharmaceuticals’ successful Phase III trials of Epidiolex (a CBD-dominant pharmaceutical-grade liquid cannabis medicine) as “pivotal evidence of clinical efficacy” of CBD.6 Epidiolex was approved by the FDA in June 2018 and has gained state-level approval in Colorado, though at the time of writing CBD was still being considered for re-classification by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In order for Epidiolex to be put onto the market and become available to patients, the DEA would need to reclassify CBD from a Schedule I to a Schedule II or III controlled substance. Because there is a risk of interaction with antiepileptic drugs, patients should consult with their doctors or medical practitioners before beginning treatment with CBD.
This story comes from Janel Ralph, a mother who founded an American hemp company called Palmetto Harmony to treat her daughter Harmony, who suffers from a rare form of intractable seizure disorder:
“Harmony was born in 2007 with a rare genetic condition known as ‘smooth brain,’ which produces multitudes of seizures that are considered untreatable by modern medicine. I was determined to find a treatment that would improve my child’s quality of life. This determination led to the creation of Palmetto Harmony. In 2015, I founded Palmetto Synergistic Research LLC and created a product line aptly named Palmetto Harmony.
I completely altered my life path to become the CEO of an American hemp company that produces full-spectrum high-cannabinoid oils, and a few short years later, both Harmony’s siblings and her father also came to work for Palmetto Synergistic Research, making this company a true family-run operation.
Harmony, and hundreds of other children like her, are now able to have a quality of life that never seemed possible in the past. Harmony can go days without any episodes, and her pharmaceutical intake has reduced by 90%. This reduction in pharmaceutical intake has allowed her to become more alert and aware of her surroundings.
With the help of neurological physicians, we have been able to map her brain through quantitative electroencephalographs (QEEGs) and gain evidence that Harmony’s brain is now able to function in areas that should not be possible because of her disorder. I will be the first to tell you that this business and these products have saved Harmony’s life and have allowed her family to professionally and personally grow closer together. I believe this plant can change this planet for the better as it has changed my family.”
- Ethan B. Russo, “Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD): Can This Concept Explain Therapeutic Benefits of Cannabis in Migraine, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Other Treatment-Resistant Conditions?” Neuro Endocrinology Letters 25, no. 1–2 (2004): 31–39.
- Chung Mo Koo and Hoon-Chul Kang, “Could Cannabidiol Be a Treatment Option for Intractable Childhood and Adolescent Epilepsy?” Journal of Epilepsy Research 7, no. 1 (2017): 16–20, doi:10.14581/jer.17003.
- Margaret Gedde and Edward Maa, “Whole Cannabis Extract of High Concentration Cannabidiol May Calm Seizures in Highly Refractory Pediatric Epilepsies,” Realm of Caring, Realm of Caring Foundation, March 2, 2016, https://www.theroc.us/gedde-study.
- Shaun A. Hussain et al., “Perceived Efficacy of Cannabidiol-Enriched Cannabis Extracts for Treatment of Pediatric Epilepsy: A Potential Role for Infantile Spasms and Lennox–Gastaut Syndrome,” Epilepsy & Behavior 47, (April 2015): 138–41, doi:10.1016/
- Emma H. Kaplan et al., “Cannabidiol Treatment for Refractory Seizures in Sturge-Weber Syndrome,” Pediatric Neurology 71, (June 2017): 18–23, doi:10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2017.02.009.
- Evan C. Rosenberg Pabitra H. Patra, and Benjamin J. Whalley, “Therapeutic Effects of Cannabinoids in Animal Models of Seizures, Epilepsy, Epileptogenesis, and Epilepsy-Related Neuroprotection,” Epilepsy & Behavior 70, Pt B (2017): 319–27, doi:10.1016/j.yebeh