Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes abnormal brain activity, seizures, and potential loss of awareness. It is a challenge to treat, with only 60% of epilepsy sufferers responding positively to standard treatments. However, a mixture of pure CBD and high-CBD-low-THC whole-plant extracts have been found to significantly alleviate the symptoms.

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Condition overview

Affecting almost 1 in every 100 people in the UK, epilepsy is a chronic and debilitating neurological disorder involving sudden bursts of intense electrical activity within the brain. These electrical bursts disrupt the brain’s usual functioning, causing epileptic seizures. The seizures vary in severity, with visible symptoms including staring episodes, loss of balance, and loss of consciousness. Such effects might last from a few minutes up to a few hours, depending on the type of seizure.

Common symptoms

It shouldn’t necessarily be assumed that seizures are a result of epilepsy. They might also be associated with issues such as high fever, low blood sugar, and alcohol or drug withdrawal.

However, there are various indicators of epilepsy, including:

  • Uncontrollable jerking and shaking
  • Loss of awareness and vacant expressions
  • Becoming stiff
  • Strange sensations, such as a “rising” feeling in the stomach, unusual smells or tastes, and a tingling feeling in the arms or legs
  • Collapsing

As mentioned, epilepsy might cause the individual to lose consciousness, with no memory of what happened during the seizure.

Common causes

The causes are unknown in over 60% of epilepsy cases. However, they are believed to be the result of genetic and acquired causes, such as physical head trauma injuries, stroke, or brain tumour development. Links have also been established between epilepsy and conditions such as stroke and genetic disorders (such as Down syndrome). When physical injury and secondary causes (such as infection or tumour) have been ruled out, epilepsy is likely to be the result of genetic and environmental cues.

There are also a number of triggers known to increase the risk of epileptic seizures.

Such triggers include:

  • Not taking epilepsy medicines as prescribed
  • Stress
  • Flashing and flickering lights
  • Alcohol and recreational drugs
  • Monthly periods
  • Illnesses which cause elevated temperature

Standard treatment

There are a number of measures that may be taken in order to prevent or reduce the likelihood of epileptic seizures. Anticonvulsant medicines such as Lamotrigine and Carbamazepine are commonly prescribed for increased seizure control. Such medicines are estimated to be effective in treating 2 in every 3 epileptic patients.

There is also the option of surgery, where the part of the brain associated with seizures is removed. Such surgery is most effective when the seizure is focused in the temporal lobe of the brain. If neither medications nor surgery prove effective then alternative treatments such as vagus nerve stimulation or the ketogenic diet may be recommended.

How medical cannabis could help

There is good evidence that pure CBD and high-CBD/low-THC cannabis varieties are effective in the treatment of epilepsy. The CBD drug Epidyolex is indicated for use as adjunctive therapy of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome.

It is thought that medical cannabis may increase the levels of the inhibitory brain chemical known as Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), resulting in the correction of abnormal brain activity. CBD may also stimulate the development of new neuronal connections.

FAQs about Medical Cannabis

FAQs about Medical Cannabis FAQs about Medical Cannabis
Is medical cannabis legal in the UK?

Yes. Cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) have been legal since the 1st of November 2018, when they moved from a Schedule 1 product to a Schedule 2 product. This reflects their potential for medical use.

Who is allowed to prescribe medical cannabis in the UK?

Cannabis-based medicinal products, also known as CBMPs, can be prescribed by private consultants, when appropriate, within their specialty area when there is unmet clinical need.

In the UK cannabis medicines are accessed primarily via private clinics. However, any specialist physician can prescribe cannabis medicines. GROW® is here to provide education and support to any specialists looking to prescribe or just to find out more.

Is medical cannabis available on the NHS?

There are 3 licensed medicines which contain cannabinoids – Epidiolex for some forms of epilepsy, Sativex for multiple sclerosis (MS), and Nabilone for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV). However, only a handful of prescriptions have been issued in the NHS to date.

Most cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) are instead unlicensed, and they must be written on a private prescription, typically issued by private clinics specialising in medical cannabis treatment.

What cannabis medicines are available?

Cannabis medicines come in multiple forms; flowers, often referred to as herbal cannabis (to be vaporised, rather than smoked), oils (taken under the tongue) and capsules. Cannabis medicines come in high-THC, high-CBD and balanced varieties.

Smoking medical cannabis is illegal. Medical cannabis can instead be taken in different forms depending on the desired speed of onset and duration of action, which is discussed between the patient and their doctor.

Which clinic should I use?

It’s important to find a clinic that works for you. Most importantly you need to find a Doctor that specialises in your condition. For example, patients with pain will need to see pain specialist, while those with a mental health condition must see a psychiatrist.

Which pharmacies can I use?

It’s important for patients to know they can use any pharmacy that supplies the appropriate medicines in the UK.

Some clinics have a preferred pharmacy but will be able to send prescriptions to others if needed. If patients have any questions about available medicines, they can contact IPS Pharma.

What should I do before my consultation?

To speed up the process, patients should bring a copy of their medical records. These are then forwarded to the clinic in advance of the first consultation.

Is medical cannabis the same as over-the-counter CBD?

No. Cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) are only prescribed by GMC-registered specialist doctors. As they are medicinal, CBMPs are regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA); which ensures the safety, quality, and effectiveness of medicines in the UK.

Over-the-counter (OTC) CBD products can be purchased without a prescription in pharmacies, health food shops, or online. These may come in forms such as oil tinctures, capsules, or vapes. They are not medicinal products as they are regulated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a food supplement, with a 0.3% limit on THC.

What if I don’t get a prescription?

Patients are free to seek a second opinion from another clinic. Patients should ensure the clinic has communicated their reasons for deciding not to prescribe. It may be that they feel you should try other medicines before trying cannabis medicines, or that they need to see more information about your medical history before they are happy to prescribe.

How can I learn more about medical cannabis?

For patient enquiries - [email protected]

For doctor enquiries - [email protected]

For all other enquiries – [email protected]

Healthcare professionals can also sign up to our Doctor Portal.

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