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Can Marijuana Cause Seizures? The Link Between Marijuana, Seizures & Epilepsy

Recent data show that medical marijuana — especially the cannabidiol component — can help prevent seizures. Self-medicating, however, comes with significant risks.

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Having seizures, whatever the underlying cause, can be frightening and dangerous. An increasing amount of research has come out about potential links between marijuana and seizures, so what should you know? Can marijuana cause seizures, or can it help them?

Article at a Glance:

It’s important to remember these key points about marijuana and seizures:

  • Unlike some other psychotropic drugs, marijuana has not been linked to seizures.
  • Evidence shows that cannabinoids can help control the excitability in the central nervous system that may otherwise lead to seizures.
  • The CBD component of marijuana is considered safer and more effective for seizure treatment than the THC component.
  • Using marijuana off the street is problematic due to issues with ingredients, drug interactions and legal status.

Table of Contents

What Are Seizures?

A seizure occurs when someone has abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can be difficult to spot in some people, and symptoms may be inconspicuous, like being unable to break your stare for a short period of time.

The symptoms of a seizure vary and can include:

  • Confusion
  • Staring
  • Jerking of the arms or legs
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Emotional or cognitive changes

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a common neurological condition and is defined by recurrent seizures that occur because of a sudden jolt of electrical activity taking place in the brain. This overexcitability leads to a disruption in the messaging between brain cells.

There has been a lot of research in recent years on seizures and epilepsy, including how marijuana impacts these conditions.

Marijuana and Seizures

Marijuana products on their own have not been linked to seizures. In fact, cannabidiol (CBD), one of the components of marijuana, has been approved by the FDA to treat certain types of seizures. That said, marijuana bought on the street may be laced with other substances with unknown seizure potential. Further, using marijuana with other psychoactive drugs may increase seizure risk, like K2, spice or PCP.

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Can Medical Marijuana Help with a Seizure Disorder?

Marijuana and its components may hold the key to some relief for people with seizures. Since ancient times, marijuana has been used to treat seizure disorders. Modern medicine recognizes marijuana’s potential as well: Epidiolex is a brand name product containing cannabidiol, or CBD, which is FDA-approved to treat the epilepsy subtypes Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Recent studies have shown the benefits of CBD in treating seizures and that CBD may be safer and more effective than the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) component of marijuana. In many studies, CBD was used alongside traditional anti-seizure medications, with the combination resulting in an improvement of seizures.

However, you should not try to self-medicate with marijuana if you have a history of seizures or epilepsy. Because it can be difficult to control seizures, you should first discuss marijuana with your neurologist.

How Does Marijuana Help with Epilepsy?

Cannabinoids help treat epilepsy by binding to specific receptors in the brain known as CB1 and CB2 receptors. In turn, these receptors inhibit the release of neurotransmitters like glutamate that excite the central nervous system and may result in seizures. Further, some experts think that cannabinoids may make traditional anti-seizure medications more effective and may increase the concentration in the body of some anti-seizure drugs like clobazam.

What You Should Know About Cannabis

Despite the likely benefits of marijuana on seizures, there are problems as well, especially if a person is taking marijuana illicitly.

Inconsistent Dosage and Ingredients

Self-medicating epilepsy with marijuana off the street can lead to problems as there is no consistency in ingredients or dosing. Further, the THC content of illicit marijuana is very high. CBD is believed to be safer and more effective for seizure treatment.

Drug Interactions

Marijuana can have drug interactions with other medications commonly prescribed in epilepsy, including benzodiazepines, and may worsen side effects like sedation.

Legal Issues

Although more states are legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance at this time. For this reason, you may run into legal problems transporting cannabis across state lines or having these items shipped to you.

Know The Risks

Though many people assume the substance is not addictive, it is possible to become dependent and addicted to marijuana. The brain can adjust to having THC in the system, leading to withdrawal symptoms if marijuana use is stopped. If you or someone you love is experiencing an addiction to marijuana, contact us today to discuss treatment options that can work well for your situation.

  • Sources

Mayo Clinic. “Seizures.” Accessed December 8, 2020.

Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Justice. “Drugs of Abuse.” April 2020. Accessed December 8, 2020.

Zaheer, Sidra; Kumar, Deepak; Khan, Muhammad T.; et al. “Epilepsy and Cannabis: A Literature Review.” Cureus, September 10, 2018. Accessed December 8, 2020.

Drugs.com. “Cannabis Drug Interactions.” Accessed December 8, 2020.

National Conference of State Legislatures. “State Medical Marijuana Laws.” November 10, 2020. Accessed December 8, 2020.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Controlled Substances – Alphabetical Order.” November 22, 2020. Accessed December 8, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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Can marijuana cause seizures and worsen epilepsy? Or can it help prevent their symptoms? Learn the facts about marijuana and seizures.

What to know about CBD oil for seizures

CBD oil is a carrier oil mixed with the compound cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD is one of many different types of cannabinoids found mainly in the cannabis plant.

CBD oil may help with some symptoms of seizures and epilepsy, though most people prefer to use the isolated CBD compound as a treatment.

There has been a recent spike in research into compounds such as CBD, fueled partly by more open legislation surrounding cannabis in general.

It is essential to be aware of any side effects or risks when taking CBD oil, and it is essential to work closely with a doctor to decide if CBD oil is a suitable treatment option.

Keep reading to learn more about cannabis and CBD oil for seizures.

Is CBD legal? Hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC are legal federally but still illegal under some state laws. Cannabis-derived CBD products, on the other hand, are illegal federally but legal under some state laws. Check local legislation, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not approved nonprescription CBD products, which may be inaccurately labeled.

a person sucking cannabis oil into a pipette that they are going to use for treating seizures

Share on Pinterest Research into the health benefits of CBD oil is ongoing.

CBD oil is a mixture of cannabidiol (CBD) and a carrier oil, such as olive, coconut, or other ingestible oils.

Cannabidiol is one of the main compounds in the cannabis plant. The other most familiar compound is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which causes the “high” when smoking or ingesting cannabis.

CBD is not psychoactive and will not cause the changes in perception associated with cannabis use.

However, some CBD oils that manufacturers label as full-spectrum or broad-spectrum may contain other compounds. Ingredients may include other cannabinoids or terpenes, depending on the manufacturer and the quality of the oil.

Some CBD oil manufacturers will include CBD and a small amount of these compounds in their oils. They suggest that these compounds work together to enhance some of the effects in the body, a process known as the entourage effect.

Seizures are surges of electrical activity in the brain that occur at inappropriate times. Underlying conditions, such as epilepsy, can cause seizures.

About 30% of people with epilepsy have difficulty controlling their symptoms using traditional methods. These people may want to talk to their doctor about using CBD for seizures.

CBD may play a role in helping to reduce seizures in some cases. That said, cannabis research takes time. The Epilepsy Foundation note that although there is some evidence to suggest that CBD may help control seizures, scientists have struggled to expand on this research due to the strict government regulations surrounding cannabis.

Cannabis products containing more than 0.3% of THC remain illegal in most states and countries worldwide. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved Epidolex, a schedule V drug that contains CBD.

Although Epidolex is the only FDA-approved drug to utilize CBD, other products that contain CBD, such as oils and edibles, are legal across the United States, provided they contain less than 0.3% THC.

Research has grown in recent years thanks to the rescheduling of CBD, and newer studies support the claim that CBD products might help treat certain groups of people with epilepsy.

However, researchers did not control the dosage or preparation of CBD in the majority of studies using CBD products, so researchers must continue to explore this area.

For more information and resources on CBD and CBD products, please visit our dedicated hub.

Some experts think CBD may be particularly beneficial for two rare forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and Dravet syndrome. The syndromes typically appear in childhood, resist treatment, and cause severe symptoms, including seizures.

Some doctors prescribe the FDA -approved CBD isolate Epidiolex to treat the seizures that these rare forms of epilepsy cause.

Their report notes the importance of the drug’s uniform strength and consistent delivery. This can give a person taking Epidiolex the confidence that they are getting the exact dose they need.

Epidiolex contains about 98% purified CBD, so it is likely to have a greater, more consistent effect than other forms of CBD isolates and oil.

Anecdotally, people, especially those with difficult to treat symptoms, have used other forms of CBD and CBD oils to treat symptoms of epilepsy and other concerns.

Anyone considering using CBD and broad-spectrum oils should talk to a doctor before using them to discuss their options.

Children with epilepsy whose symptoms do not respond well to conventional treatments may also benefit from using CBD. For instance, the FDA have approved Epidiolex for people over the age of 2 with Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes.

A review in the Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology notes that CBD, either isolated or part of a CBD-enriched herbal extract, helps decrease seizure frequency in children with treatment-resistant epilepsy.

A second review in Epilepsia notes that even though evidence suggests CBD likely reduces seizures among children with drug-resistant epilepsy, these results do not extend to other cannabis compounds in the plant. Researchers think that CBD is the only accepted compound with these properties.

As for long term effectiveness, CBD may not be suitable for all children. A study in CNS Drugs notes that over 4 years, CBD was effective in about 27% of children with treatment-resistant epilepsy. However, about 81% of participants experienced side effects, and about 23% experienced severe side effects.

There are several potential risks and side effects that people need to be aware of when using CBD oil for epilepsy and seizures.

Side effects

CBD oil usually causes few side effects, which are typically mild. Common side effects from CBD may include:

  • sleepiness or fatigue
  • drowsiness
  • diarrhea
  • an upset stomach
  • changes in weight
  • changes in appetite

For some people, CBD may make it unsafe for them to operate heavy machinery or drive.

Suicidal ideation

There may be a link between CBD use and suicidal ideation in some cases. One 2020 article notes a correlation between the two but emphasizes that CBD may not be responsible for this outcome.

More research will help to determine the link between CBD and suicidal ideation. Anyone using CBD should watch for any unusual signs and changes in behavior.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.

Possible liver damage

CBD may increase the risk of liver damage in some people, especially when taken in combination with other medications. Anyone with a history of liver damage should work with a doctor to monitor their liver function if they choose to use CBD.

Drug interactions

Although CBD is a natural compound, it might still interact with some drugs. Always talk to a doctor before using CBD to check for any contraindications.

Some medications, for example, those that take the CYP450 enzymatic pathway, carry a caution on the label warning people not to drink grapefruit juice while taking them, as it can interfere with the drugs.

Using CBD can carry similar potential risks.

People must also be aware of drug and herb interactions. This is especially important for those with liver or renal disease, as unmonitored changes in their blood levels can be dangerous.

Research into plant products and how they may interact with certain drugs is in its early stages. However, some research shows that certain herbs may interact with CBD and other electrolytes taking the CYP450 pathway, such as:

  • milk thistle
  • echinacea
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • garlic
  • St. John’s wort
  • goldenseal

Purity

Ensuring purity is an crucial factor for anyone looking for CBD oil. This is especially true for people who want to use CBD oil as a supplementary treatment for conditions such as epilepsy.

Reputable manufacturers will offer third-party lab testing that details the amounts of compounds, such as CBD, in each bottle. This ensures that a person gets as measured a dose as possible.

An independent lab test also helps ensure that the product is free from other contaminants, such as chemicals, pesticides, or heavy metals.

All CBD products featured on Medical News Today have undergone rigorous third-party testing and meet standards of quality.

Drug testing

Though CBD oil contains mostly CBD, it can contain trace amounts of THC. While this is not enough to produce a psychoactive effect in the brain, it may still show up on a drug test.

Anyone using CBD for treatments who has to undergo drug testing should be aware of this possibility and take the appropriate steps to avoid any consequences.

CBD oil may help with some symptoms of seizures and epilepsy, though the isolated CBD compound may be the preferred treatment in most cases. Learn more.