New Hope for Seizure Control
About one third of people with epilepsy continue to have seizures despite taking anti-seizure medication. Some people may have occasional seizures whilst others may have frequent severe and damaging seizures. This treatment gap has led people to seek other forms of therapy, including medicinal cannabis.
Research is finding that compounds derived from the cannabis plant can reduce the severity and frequency of seizures in some people, especially in children who have severe epilepsy syndromes such as Dravet and Lennox Gastaut Syndrome.
What is Medicinal Cannabis?
For centuries, the cannabis plant has been considered to have therapeutic benefits including antiseizure effects. Cannabinoids are substances in cannabis that act on cells in the body (called cannabinoid receptors) to cause some effect. Two major ingredients include:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which causes the psychoactive effects of a ‘high’.
- Cannabidiol, or CBD does not contain mind-altering properties. It has shown some positive effects on certain body systems and may potentially help control seizures. CBD is thought to have an anti-psychoactive effect that controls or moderates the ‘high’ caused by THC, and may even reduce some of the other negative effects that people can experience from THC, such as anxiety.
- See “What Products are Available” for more information
At this time, The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) suggest the use of medicinal cannabis products should only be considered where conventional treatments have been tried and proven unsuccessful in managing the person’s symptoms. See the TGA resource for further information.
Watch this video from the TGA
For more about medicinal cannabis and epilepsy go to Cannabis 4 Epilepsy.
For more information and guidance around medicinal cannabis and a wide range of health conditions go to CanGuide.
Does it work?
CBD may or may not work for you. It is comparable to trying a new medication for your seizures. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. They all have side-effects. We hear different reports and the results vary from person to person.
Despite what is in the media, bear these things in mind if you are thinking about trying CBD:
- it is very expensive because the doses needed for people with epilepsy are high;
- there can sometimes be issues with supply, so there may be occasions where you are unable to get your CBD product which can increase the risk of seizures;
- you should not stop your anti-seizure medication, CBD is regarded as complementary treatment to be used alongside your medication;
- if you have side effects or little effectiveness or decide CBD isn’t for you, then you need to wean off the CBD like any other anti-seizure medication, so you will still be outlaying a lot of money whilst weaning;
- it has side effects just like any other medication;
- it can also affect or interact with medications you may be taking therefore medical supervision is necessary;
- it will impact your driving license, and traces of THC may be found on a road side drug test;
- it may or may not improve your seizure control. You may have a honeymoon period initially, like any other anti-seizure medication, but there is no guarantee it will work long-term for you.
If you are thinking of trying medical cannabis it is very important that you speak to your neurologist or treating doctor.
Medicinal Cannabis Products in Australia
In early 2017, the Federal Government changed laws to allow easier importation of medicinal cannabis from suppliers overseas.
Access to medicinal cannabis involves a more complicated process than with most other medicines. Most medicinal cannabis products are unapproved therapeutic goods, which means they have not been assessed by the TGA for safety, quality or effectiveness. However, where clinically appropriate, there are pathways for doctors to access medicinal cannabis products for their patients.
This means that you can’t simply go to a doctor, obtain a prescription, and fill it at a pharmacy as you would with conventional registered medicines. A doctor must either be an ‘Authorised Prescriber’ or be prepared to make an application on behalf of their patient through the TGA ‘Special Access Scheme’. It varies in each state, but doctors usually need to be able to show that the product would be of benefit for their patient.
At this time, advertising of medical cannabis is not allowed, so it’s very difficult for both patients and doctors to know what’s available but the Australian medical cannabis market now hosts many medical cannabis products through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) access pathways. There are also various products that doctors prescribe via compounding pharmacies.
Read here about accessing medicinal cannabis
In most states any doctor can prescribe medicinal cannabis for any patient with any condition, if they have the required approvals. In addition to a doctor prescribing the treatment, the legal use of cannabis for medical purposes differs by States and Territories. See below for the regulations in your state.
- Federal Government – The Federal Government relaxed medicinal cannabis restrictions in March 2018 and has passed legislation legalising the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
- ACT – See ACT Health for details
- New South Wales – See Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Innovation for clinical guidelines. See also NSW Health
- Northern Territory – See NT Government for details
- Queensland – See Queensland Health for details.
- South Australia See SA Health for details or Patient Access in SA.
- Tasmania See Tasmanian Department of Health for details.
- Victoria – See Health.Vic for details
- Western Australia – See WA Department of Health for details
- See here for TGA’s information about Access to Medicinal Cannabis Products
Epilepsy Action Australia’s Position
Epilepsy Action believes in a thorough pharmacologic and clinical investigation into cannabis to confirm or disprove its safety and anti-seizure potential. We are at the forefront of advocating for increased research into this area of new hope, and assisting through various Government and University constituted Boards and Steering Committees.
- Cannabis 4 Epilepsy is a website dedicated to providing people with the most current information available about cannabis for epilepsy.
- CanGuide is a website dedicated to providing information and guidance around medical cannabis for a wide range of health conditions including multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, pain etc
- Find, explore and learn all things cannabis
- Guidance for the use of medicinal cannabis in the treatment of epilepsy in paediatric and young adult patients in Australia (TGA)
- Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics
- United in Compassion – Australia
- Understanding Cannabinoids video
- Documentary covering the life work of Professor Raphael Mechoulam, considered to be the founding father in the field of cannabinoid research