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:
- 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.
Marijuana can have drug interactions with other medications commonly prescribed in epilepsy, including benzodiazepines, and may worsen side effects like sedation.
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.
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.
Why CBD is Dangerous For Seizures and Epilepsy
After discussing why I don’t believe that CBD is effective, the damage that could be done by recommending cannabidiol – better known as “CBD” – for patients has become more evident to me. Watch the video above to see a patient agreeing with me that CBD may have exacerbated a severe status epilepticus requiring emergent tracheotomy. If this is indeed true, then medical marijuana patients with epilepsy from all around the country need to be informed of the potential danger of CBD use and its blocking of the real active ingredient that is controlling their seizures: THC.
Why CBD Could Trigger Status Epilepticus
Status epilepticus is what we call a seizure that lasts longer than 3-5 minutes. This is usually when long-term damage occurs to the seizing neurons involved in the event. THC works by lowering the amount of cyclic-AMP (cAMP) within these neurons, thus increasing the threshold required to create a neurological discharge (also known as an “Action Potential”). THC does this by binding the Cannabis 1 receptor (CB1) like a lock and key.
Cannabidiol is NOT a cannabis receptor activator, the way THC is. This might surprise you, but CBD is actually a functional blocker of the CBD1 receptor. We call this an “antagonist” because it prevents a receptor from becoming activated and doing its job. In the presence of THC, it prevents THC from binding and activating the receptor by being in the way. This means it could cause someone’s seizure threshold to drop and stop the therapeutic effect of cannabis and possibly endocannabinoids – the cannabinoids naturally inside our bodies.
When Danger Strikes – Education and Public Awareness Critical
Around the country, dispensaries are recommending CBD to patients with epilepsy because of studies and anecdotal reports claiming benefits as a seizure treatment. What happens when patients try a high-CBD (low-THC) strain must be understood by everyone involved. The change in medication has the appearance of a simple adjustment – one cannabis strain for another, like any other visit to the medical marijuana dispensary. However, recommendations to try a non-psychoactive strain are not made by a medical doctor. The drastic stop to THC that occurs when a high-CBD strain is substituted for the usual high-THC status quo variety is the equivalent of discontinuation of the patient’s anti-epileptic drug and starting a new drug that blocks the binding of the previous drug.
As anyone can imagine, this could have disastrous effects for seizure patients. THC has had the most profound anti-epileptic properties in all of my patients and suggesting to any of them that CBD, rather than THC, is the correct treatment is wrong on so many levels. To prevent that from happening, I recommend we all share this information with others so seizure patients across the globe will reconsider changing to a high-CBD strain that lacks the THC they depend on.
Why CBD is Dangerous For Seizures and Epilepsy After discussing why I don’t believe that CBD is effective, the damage that could be done by recommending cannabidiol – better known as “CBD” – for