Seizures happen when your brain cells, which communicate through electrical signals, send out the wrong signals. Having just one seizure doesn’t mean you have epilepsy. Generally, several seizures are needed before there is a diagnosis of epilepsy.
Epilepsy can happen at any age, but it is most common in the elderly. Many children with epilepsy outgrow the condition. However, even mild seizures that happen more than once should be treated. Seizures can be very dangerous if they happen while you are driving, walking, or swimming, for example.
Signs and Symptoms
Seizures are classified in 2 main categories:
Partial seizures involve a part of the brain. They can be:
- Simple partial seizures — Symptoms may include involuntary twitching of the muscles or arms and legs; changes in vision; vertigo; and having unusual tastes or smells. The person does not lose consciousness.
- Complex partial seizures — Symptoms may be like those of partial seizures, but the person does lose awareness for a time. The person may do things over and over, like walking in a circle, rubbing the hands together, or staring into space.
Generalized seizures involve much more or all of the brain. They can be:
- Absence seizures (petit mal) — Symptoms may include staring and brief loss of consciousness.
Myoclonic seizures — Symptoms may include jerking or twitching of the limbs on both sides of the body.
- Tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal) — Symptoms may include loss of consciousness, shaking or jerking of the body, and loss of bladder control. The person may have an aura or an unusual feeling before the seizure starts. These seizures can last from 5 to 20 minutes.
What Causes It?
Seizures are caused by overexcited nerve cells in the brain that fire abnormally. In about half of cases, the cause isn’t known. Some things that can cause seizures include:
- Head injury
- Genes — researchers have linked specific genes to epilepsy
- Injury to the brain before birth
- Some medical conditions, such as meningitis and lupus
- Stroke and heart attack
(Source: University of Maryland Medical Center)
Treatment of seizure disorder and epilepsy syndromes is a complex process involving a combination of anti-epileptic drug (AED) therapy, diet and even surgical intervention in some intractable cases. Unfortunately, multiple forms of AED therapy, switching to a ketogenic diet and surgical intervention have failed to provide adequate seizure control for patients. It is for these patients and caregivers that medical cannabis therapy has provided a renewed sense of hope.
Heather Jackson, Executive Director of Realm of Caring, breeders of the now famous Charlotte’s Web strain, is a strong advocate of cannabis therapy, while managing expectations. She said, “This isn’t a cure but it’s an option, an option that shouldn’t be relegated to an underground market.”
The science on cannabis therapy in treating epilepsy is still in its infancy. However, results of experiments on cannabis therapy are promising. Initial results conducted by GW Pharmaceuticals show an overall 44% seizure reduction seen in the 27 Dravet syndrome patients tested. Out of 200 children treated at Realm of Caring, 78% have seen seizure reduction with 25% being almost 100% seizure free. Furthermore, Jackson added, “Even if they don’t see the significant seizure control there are developmental gains.”
Commenting on the success of the program, Jackson reports that, “The epilepsy community much like cannabis has an unfair stigma”, and she hoping that the continued education and lobbying of policy makers by caring parents will move public understanding and acceptance of both epilepsy and cannabis therapy in the mainstream.