Cannabis indica and cannabis sativa have been used therapeutically for thousands of years, including for the treatment of epilepsy. Today, cannabis is viewed as a controversial medical subject – thanks in large part to prohibition and decades of misinformation – but prior to 1937’s “Marihuana Tax Act” cannabis was accepted by doctors and patients as a true medicine, and considered one of the safest and most effective forms of seizure control medication.
While cannabis has been used in large parts of the world for thousands of years, it only reached the west in the middle of the 19th century. William O’Shaughnessy was an Irish doctor who spent some time in India. While there he attempted to treat a young girl who was suffering from seizures – but his bag of western medicines failed to help the child. In desperation he turned to cannabis indica, which the locals had used for centuries to treat an assortment of ailments. A few tincture drops on the child’s tongue brought the seizures to an end. O’Shaughnessy later wrote in a medical journal regarding the experience: “The child is now in enjoyment of robust health and regained her natural plump and happy appearance.”
When O’Shaughnessy returned to England in 1841 he brought cannabis with him. He would prescribe it for conditions as diverse as muscle spasms, rheumatism and rabies.
O’Shaughnessy concluded that, “In Hemp the profession has gained an anti-convulsive remedy of the greatest value.”
Later in the 19th century Sir John Russell Reynolds, who was Queen Victoria’s personal physician, wrote this about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, “I have found hemp very useful” for treating epilepsy.
For the next 50 years cannabis was widely prescribed. But when the 1937 “Marihuana Tax Act” was passed, cannabis was effectively outlawed. With cannabis prohibition came decades of propaganda and untruths about the medicinal applications of cannabis, and, with it, decades of needless suffering for sick people.
“It is one of the great tragedies of modern medicine,” said Martin Lee, author of the book ‘Smoke Signals, a Social History of Marijuana’, in reference to marijuana prohibition. “It impeded all kinds of medical advances. Think of all the knowledge we lost. Think of all the time we lost. We have been forced to rediscover things that were there all along. And in the meantime, these poor kids.”
It was 1996, almost 60 years later, when California became the first US state to legalize medical marijuana. From that date until this the acceptance of cannabis as a medicine has been growing, both anecdotally and scientifically.
When Dr Sanjay Gupta reversed his opposition to medical marijuana on CNN he was not only making a brave personal choice in acknowledging his mistake, but he also decided to shine a spotlight on medical cannabis, and cannabidiol in particular:
CBD and Epilepsy: Scientific Studies
In recent years a growing number of scientific studies have sought to clarify the link between CBD and epilepsy. In this study of 19 children who were given cannabidiol, 84% of parents reported a reduction in their child’s seizure frequency. 11% reported complete eradication of seizures and 42% reported a greater than 80% reduction in seizure numbers. 32% reported a 25-60% seizure reduction. An increase in alertness and mood was also widely seen.
During the early part of the 20th century doctors supported medical cannabis – the American Medical Association strongly objected to the Marihuana Tax Act, and cited the suffering it would cause patients. But, due to their lack of first-hand experience, today’s physicians are far more skeptical on the merits of cannabis. Until hugely expensive clinical trials are performed doctors will remain cautious. But for parents who are watching their child suffer daily seizures, such caution isn’t an option. What would any of us do in that situation? Sit back and wait for clinical studies? Surely not.
Along with the slow progress of medical marijuana has been the slow progress in our knowledge of the cannabis plant. While it was known in the 19th century that cannabis reduced seizures it’s only been the last twenty years that scientists have isolated particular cannabinoids and begun to understand which cannabinoid does what.
It is from this research, much of it done by Professor Raphael Mechoulam, that cannabidiol has finally come to the world’s attention:
CBD Rich Strains: The Future
For the last 30 or 40 years growers have sought to increase the THC content in cannabis strains. This has unwittingly led to the virtual eradication of CBD from the plant. This may have led to people having a good time using cannabis recreationally, but it has been a disaster for medicinal use. These mutated THC-loaded strains are wholly unsuitable as a seizure medication.
Fortunately, with this new level of cannabinoid understanding, things are changing for the better. CBD has become a well-known substance. We’ve all seen parents on the news pleading with politicians to support CBD legislation. And as this movement has built, so growers have stepped in to develop CBD-rich strains of cannabis.
Most famous of all is “Charlotte’s Web”, named after Charlotte Figi, the young girl highlighted by Sanjay Gupta’s CNN documentary. But many other CBD strains are being created around the world. Strains with names such as Harlequin, ACDC and Cannatonic are quickly gaining popularity as growers attempt to catch up to the phenomenal demand for CBD.
The Long Road To Sanity
It’s been a long road – far more circuitous than it should have been – but in 2014 we are finally on the verge of giving parents around the world open access to cannabis medication for their child’s epilepsy.
Share this article with your friends: