By Richard Farrell
Who Prescribes Marijuana for Epilepsy?
You can scratch out the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), whose dispute of medical marijuana’s effectiveness appeared in Medical News Today (MNT) on April 29, 2014. AAN did a comprehensive study regarding the beneficial use of marijuana based on all available evidence. While the study agreed that marijuana is a beneficial treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS), it concluded that there is not enough evidence to declare it an acceptable medical treatment for epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, Tourette syndrome or cervical dystonia.
On May 22, MNT followed up with a report from Epilepsia, the official journal of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE), which strongly disagrees with the AAN. The ILAE’s goals center on encouraging research and education, disseminating knowledge and improving care. Their stance is not on behalf of the marijuana industry as some others may be. As such, it deserves to be taken at least as seriously as the AAN, which has an entrenched position.
The ILAE has chosen a more empirical approach based on case studies that have provided facts as opposed to academic opinions. These include treatment of childhood epilepsy using the Charlotte’s Web marijuana strain, the beneficial use of CBD to ease convulsions, and the application of marijuana in seizure control.
According to Dr. Orrin Devinsky, director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, there is a lack of statistically reliable evidence, although “cannabis has been used to treat epilepsy for centuries.” The drivers behind this include problems sourcing consistent strains, a fear of prosecution for possession and a general lack of academic support.
Dr. Maria Roberta Cilio, director of research in Pediatric Epilepsy at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, agreed, “there is a critical need for new therapies.” There are two sides to the debate whether marijuana is good for epilepsy, and this urgently needs resolution. I decided to dig a little deeper into the academic side of the debate, by reviewing another article by MNT.
I learned that while epilepsy diagnosis could previously be confirmed following “the occurrence of at least one epileptic seizure,” this was characterized by an enduring likelihood of more to follow. The new ILAE definition tightens up on this, while at the same time making provision for epilepsy resolving itself, which is not the same as remission or cure.
Surely, anything that can suppress an epileptic seizure until the disorder disappears is distinctly beneficial, and this includes marijuana. To my mind, it has always been a palliative option. If the American Academy of Neurology disagrees, then they should reconsider the evidence.