Stories of treating epileptic children with cannabidiol (CBD) oil have been prolific in the media in the last few years. Arguably, these stories ignited and sustained the rapidly changing opinion Americans have towards medical marijuana—29 states plus Washington D.C. have legalized some form of medicinal cannabis. It seems that stories of miraculous medical recoveries have resonated enough with voters to create real cannabis policy change.
Many of these stories involve kids younger than 10 years of age who are severely debilitated from near-constant seizures. These children are out of options due to ineffective pharmaceutical treatments.
One such child was Charlotte Figi. Charlotte was just five years old when her doctors informed her parents there was nothing else they could do to treat her Dravet syndrome. When her parents turned to CBD as a last hope, Charlotte was suffering from 300 grand mal seizures per week. The seizures were so constant that she lost the ability to walk.
After winning the right to register Charlotte as the youngest medical marijuana patient in the state of Colorado, her parents began working with cannabis growers who were cultivating high-CBD, low-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cannabis strains. These growers bred a special strain with these characteristics just for her and named it Charlotte’s Web.
Within one year of taking the CBD oil, Charlotte was a thriving six year old experiencing just two to three seizures per month.
All across America, parents are finding life-saving medicine for their children in some form of the cannabis sativa plant. In states with no medicinal cannabis laws, the only form of CBD that’s legal comes from hemp. If you’re a parent looking into hemp CBD for your child, here are some answers to the most pressing questions you may have about CBD treatments for kids.
CBD, unlike THC, doesn’t make you feel high. For many parents, a natural plant extract that comes with powerful medicinal benefits, but won’t get their kid stoned is a dream come true. And for hemp-derived CBD oil to be legal, it has to test at less than 0.3% THC. Hemp CBD’s non-psychoactivity helps parents feel more open to giving it to their suffering child.
Hemp CBD oil is also very accessible. CBD that you’d find in a cannabis dispensary comes from a different variety of Cannabis sativa plant. This different variety has much higher levels of cannabinoids and terpenes, and is only legal for adult use or medical marijuana patients with very specific ailments, depending on the state. But hemp-based CBD is regulated by different rules.
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Hemp CBD isn’t made from cannabis flower, like controlled CBD products are, but rather, is made from the stalk and seeds. This means hemp CBD has a much lower level of all cannabinoids, including THC and CBD.
Because hemp CBD is made from the stalks and seeds, it can get around the Controlled Substances Act and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate it like it does whole-plant cannabis CBD. This means for the most part it’s regulated similarly to diet supplements and vitamins and can be sold all throughout the country.
When it comes to treating children with CBD, epilepsy and seizures in general have been the most notable health conditions the oil seems to help with. There’ve been many clinical trials and lab research to indicate CBD is an effective treatment for seizures.
Seizures are caused when brain cells misfire, which cause the body to convulse and can lead to loss of consciousness, injury and brain damage. So why is CBD so effective in treating seizure conditions?
Some researchers believe that CBD interacts with:
In this theory, the anticonvulsive properties of CBD attach to neurons in the brain and inhibit how the ions flow between neurotransmitters. Unfortunately, this is only a theory, and much more research must be conducted to fully understand the science behind the anticonvulsive properties of CBD.
Evidence from lab research, clinical trials and anecdotal stories have all shown positive signs that cannabis can help with epilepsy. Especially in extreme cases in which doctors, equipped with only pharmaceutical treatment options, have essentially conceded the battle.
And even if anticonvulsive pharmaceutical drugs like valproic acid, primidone, clonazepam and phenobarbital are effective against seizures, they come with some pretty serious side effects that can do real damage to young, developing children. These drugs are known to result in:
Luckily, right now there’s more scientific attention on CBD as a natural treatment for epilepsy than there has ever been. And in a monumental move, the FDA just approved Epidiolex, a CBD-based syrup to treat seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.
Among the rigorous testing to receive FDA approval was a double-blind, placebo-controlled study that was published in The New England Journal of Medicine and funded by GW Pharmaceuticals, the maker of Epidiolex. In this study, 120 children and teenagers with Dravet syndrome were divided into two groups: one treated with the CBD oral solution and the other treated with a placebo. The groups were treated for 14 weeks with either 20 mg of CBD per kilogram of body weight per day or the placebo.
After 14 weeks, the group taking CBD saw a reduction in seizures per month from 12.4 to 5.9 (median). This is compared to a decrease from 14.9 to 14.1 (median) when treated with the placebo. Sixty-two percent of caregivers in the CBD group reported that the child’s overall condition improved, compared to just 34% in the placebo group.
The results of this study led the lead researcher Orrin Devinsky, to conclude, “This study clearly establishes cannabidiol as an effective anti-seizure drug for this disorder and this age group.”
These subjects had very difficult cases, in which their seizures were extremely drug-resistant, rendering traditional treatments pretty much ineffective. And compared to the side effects of traditional drugs, in this study the most reported side effect was sleepiness. For this group of patients to see success using a natural extract is revolutionary. For them, CBD was certainly more effective than traditional treatments were.
Hemp CBD oil is legally much more accessible than CBD oil is. The difference between hemp-derived CBD and cannabis-derived CBD can be confusing, but according to a Drug and Enforcement Agency (DEA) spokesperson, “If the products are derived from the non-psychoactive part of the marijuana plant, then you’re talking a non-controlled substance.” If these requirements are met, then hemp CBD oil can be legally sold all throughout the United States.
Finding hemp CBD oil is relatively simple. You can find it in most cities and towns across America, often at organic food stores and holistic shops or through a state program. Hemp CBD oil can also be legally shipped anywhere in the U.S.
But parents should do research on a specific brand before buying, especially since these oils have relatively lax regulations on their ingredients and production methods. You always want to make sure there aren’t any harmful additives or questionable production methods employed when processing the hemp oil.
The real struggle for many parents occurs after purchasing the CBD. How do you use it? How much is enough? How much is too much? First of all, discuss hemp CBD oil with your child’s doctor before you do anything. They may have suggestions for dose and treatment or hopefully some kind of general guidance to give to you.
Unfortunately, not many doctors are fully versed in the latest science and research on CBD. In these cases, many parents may be left trying to make sense of the research, dosing and treatment plans on their own.
With this in mind, parents and caregivers can join networks so that they don’t have to go on this journey alone. Realm of Caring, started by the Stanley Brothers who cultivated Charlotte’s Web, exists as a resource for those treating illness with CBD. Parents can find dosage calculators, treatment plan suggestions and a community of other parents on the same journey.
HelloMD also offers a wonderful community of nurses and doctors who are well versed in cannabinoids and medical conditions, medicinal marijuana patients and their caregivers, plus cannabis industry experts who can all share their knowledge and lend support.
Photo credit: MI PHAM