November is Epilepsy Awareness Month
November is Epilepsy Awareness Month; a chronic, neurological disorder which causes recurrent, unprovoked seizures in over 50 million people worldwide. No matter their age, about 1 out of 1,000 adults and 1 out of 4,500 children with epilepsy die from Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) each year, with deaths occurring more frequently in those whose seizures are poorly controlled. It is vital to promote diagnosis of this condition in order to alleviate seizures and their impact, improve quality of life, and even prevent SUDEP.
Although symptoms of seizures can affect any part of an individual’s body, they stem from electrical events originating in the brain. The location of that event, how it spreads, how the brain is affected, as well as the length of the seizures determine how it can affect the individual. These epileptic seizures may be related to brain injuries, however, a definitive cause of the disorder is still unknown. This can cause dangerous disruption in patients’ lives; especially when these seizures can affect a patient’s safety.
One of the most common symptoms associated with epilepsy are aforementioned seizures. These may vary significantly in their physical manifestation as there are over 30 different types of seizures. Categories include General, Focal, or Unknown. Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain or groups of cells on both sides of the brain at the same time. They may produce loss of consciousness, either briefly or for a longer period of time. Focal Seizures can start in one area or group of cells in one side of the brain. In addition, when the start of a seizure is unknown, it is classified in the unknown onset seizure category.
The manifestation of seizures may vary for different people, and may be hard to recognize as such. Some individuals may seem spacey or confused, whereas others may present itself physically, causing patients to collapse or shake uncontrollably. In these moments, it is best to keep the individual safe during their seizure as the episode subsides. Rare complications may occur, turning the situation into a life threatening moment. It is important to dial 911 for emergency assistance immediately. If a patient is concerned, it is strongly advised to speak with a doctor or neurology immediately.
To control one’s seizures, patients generally seek out treatments through antiepileptic drugs (AED). However, those taking these medications experience frequent side effects including dizziness, nausea, headache, vomiting, fatigue, vertigo, ataxia, blurred vision, and tremors. In turn, medical marijuana has often shown the ability to be a highly responsive, safe and effective treatment option for patients who do not wish to experience the severe side effects of AED medications.
Early evidence from studies and anecdotal reports have shown the efficacy of cannabidiol (CBD) in controlling epileptic seizures. Recent studies have shown the efficacy of CBD medications in treating epilepsy. Many studies have included a significant number of patients with Dravet syndrome (DS) and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), and have observed reduced seizures as an effect of CBD. One of the most prominent cases includes 6 year old Charlotte Figi, who was suffering from more than 300 grand mal seizures a week. With approval from a physician, Charlotte started out with a very small dose of Charlotte’s Web, a strain rich in CBD which does not produce any psychoactive “high feeling” effects. Since using high-CBD cannabis oil, Charlotte's seizures have been reduced from over a thousand to a just handful a month. Due to federal regulations, financial constraints, and limited CBD access, research has been difficult for many researchers.
In support of Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program patients, TerraVida has been collecting donations and distributing purple ribbons throughout the month of November to aid the local chapter of The Epilepsy Foundation, who seeks to provide community services, public education, access to care campaign, research initiatives, and new therapies funding. The Epilepsy Foundation is committed to supporting physician-directed care and to exploring and advocating for all potential treatment options, including medical cannabis and CBD. They support lifting federal barriers to research on cannabis- derived CBD and support access to these potential therapies.