With the passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, otherwise known as the “Farm Bill,” there has been an increase in discussions surrounding hemp since the last section of the act removed the plant from the Controlled Substances Act, effectively legalizing it federally.
One special area of interest is how hemp extracts and derivatives impact individuals with seizure-based conditions.
This is a topic important to many as epilepsy — a condition characterized by unpredictable seizures — is the fourth most common neurological disorder that afflicts 65 million people worldwide and 3.4 million in the U.S. alone according to the Epilepsy Foundation.
Although death is somewhat rare with this particular condition, the Epilepsy Foundation says epileptic seizures impact all areas of a person’s life since it affects daily activities such as working and driving. It can also impact relationships, a person’s safety, and more.
The University of Texas adds that approximately one in three epilepsy patients won’t respond to the first or even the second medication they receive to help treat or control their condition.
And if neither of these medications work, there is less than a 1 percent chance that a third will provide relief either, making hemp oil an even more critical option to consider since others have failed. But what does research have to say about hemp and whether it can potentially provide some relief from this brain-based condition?
Hemp and seizure disorders
Research has found promising results for a variety of seizure disorders. In an article published in the Journal of Epilepsy Research in December of 2017, the author explains that three high-quality trials conducted in recent months have found promising results for individuals with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, both conditions characterized by recurrent seizures.
These trials reported that CBD (cannabidiol, a chemical compound found within the hemp or cannabis plant) was more effective than placebo for reducing the number of seizures experienced by individuals with Dravet syndrome. CBD was also found to lower the number of drop seizures for those with Lennox-Gestaut syndrome.
Drop seizures, also referred to as atonic seizures, are seizures in which all or part of the body becomes limp according to the Epilepsy Foundation. Thus, if the person is standing when the seizure occurs, he or she typically falls to the ground.
The federal government seems to be taking notice of these research studies, with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration issuing a press release on June 25, 2018 stating that, for the first time ever, it had approved a drug containing CBD for treatment of both Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes.
Hemp and epileptic patients
Another study, this one published in the journal Neurology in April 2018, was conducted in an effort to better understand how epilepsy patients in Utah were using hemp extract. It also set out to discover whether they were experiencing positive or negative results.
Out of the 46 individuals that responded to the 12-item questionnaire, 41 (89 percent) indicated that they were taking hemp extract. A majority of these individuals (54 percent) said that they took the extract twice a day for an average period of 14 months.
More than two-thirds (68 percent) also reported that their seizures had decreased in frequency and/or severity after beginning a hemp extract regimen. The same amount of respondents indicated that they noticed other positive benefits as well, some of which included better sleep, improved mood, and feeling more alert.
However, some of the study participants did reveal that they had adverse effects after taking hemp extract for their seizures. For instance, some reported that their seizures actually increased versus decreasing. Others shared that they had diarrhea and/or fatigue after using this extract, with two percent reporting serious adverse effects related to mouth swelling and increased seizures.
Researchers warn that it’s difficult to ascertain exactly how the hemp extract impacted these individuals as many of the users (20 percent) said that they were unsure of the concentration of hemp in the products they use. Therefore, it’s impossible to know whether they were able to achieve therapeutic doses, or if they were taking too much or not enough.
More research ahead
One thing that many researchers in this field do tend to agree on is that more studies need to be conducted on hemp and its derivatives to know for sure what effect it has on seizures. Additionally, if it does work, what dosages are therapeutic?
The passing of the Farm Bill will likely pave the way for scientists to learn more about this age-old, yet just-newly-studied plant and its medicinal effects.