- Last Updated on 04 December 2013
With recent legislation in Colorado and Washington state, there has been renewed interest in the therapeutic potential of marijuana (cannabis) for myriad conditions including epilepsy, and even infantile spasms. To a limited extent, this has been inspired by small studies in animals suggesting that cannabis may have anti-seizure properties. However, like many "alternative" therapies which are outside mainstream western medicine, there is limited scientific support for the use of cannabis to treat epilepsy. Although the internet is replete with parent and practitioner testimonials extolling the virtue of medical marijuana, there is insufficient evidence—and especially safety data—to recommend its use for treatment of seizures. Please see our discussion of "Treatment X". Potential drug-interactions between cannabis and traditional anti-seizure medications are unknown.
There are current efforts underway to explore the potential usefulness of medical marijuana in a controlled fashion. Specifically, several active drugs in marijuana, especially cannabidiol (CBD), are being investigated as a potential treatments of severe epilepsy in children, including infantile spasms. CBD contrasts with the principal psychoactive component of marijuana called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is thought to be the constituent most responsible for the "high" of marijuana and associated effects on appetite and potential effects on cognition (e.g. amotivational syndrome, paranoia, unmasking of latent psychosis, etc). THC, which is far more potent than CBD, also appears to be "proconvulsant", meaning that consumption of THC may provoke seizures. In a parallel effort—not sponsored or regulated by the FDA—several manufacturers (growers) have been breeding plants with high CBD content and low THC content. CBD, and other cannabinoids including THC, can be extracted from these plants using a variety of methods to produce a liquid/oil preparation which can be consumed. Despite rather compelling and emotional reports in the media, there continue to be major concerns regarding effectiveness, safety, and quality control (esp. CBD/THC content and dose variation from batch to batch).
A few examples of pertinent news stories are below. Beware of the limited claims and lack of compelling scientific data supporting the use of cannabis.