Texas Approves Cannabis Oil for Epilepsy Patients: What Does This Mean for You?

If you or a loved one suffers from refractory epilepsy, you may be tempted to consider the option of marijuana treatment now that it’s available. However, any treatment decision should be made in partnership with your doctor.

In May, the Texas House voted 96–34 to allow patients with epilepsy to use cannabidiol (CBD), also known as cannabis oil, to treat epilepsy, as well as other chronic seizure disorders. In June, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the law, presumably allowing CBD, a derivative of the marijuana plant, to be used in the treatment of epilepsy. CBD, which is noneuphoric and low in the ingredient that allows users to get “high” has been effective in numerous individual, well-popularized cases of epilepsy, Dravet’s syndrome and other seizure disorders. However, long-term data about the effectiveness of CBD is lacking, and roadblocks are in place that could block patients from actually accessing CBD for several years.

In its current state, the law requires doctors to “prescribe” the medical marijuana rather than “recommend” its use. Because marijuana is illegal on a federal level, physicians who prescribe CBD open themselves up to potential federal criminal sanctions. However, advocates of medical marijuana use are hopeful that this step will open the doors to expanded use at a later date.

In the meantime, here’s what you should know now about the use of CBD for seizure disorders.

Numerous individual patients with refractor epilepsy appear to have benefited from this treatment. However, these are single cases — the rigorous research studies needed to establish a standard of care have not yet been performed. In many cases, parents of epileptic children have made their own cannabis oil, making it difficult for researchers to reproduce the treatment or results. And in other cases, patients have seen no results at all.

Epilepsy and other seizure disorders have well-established treatment protocols that have effectively reduced or eliminated seizures for numerous patients. Medical treatments, diets and surgery have all demonstrated excellent results. Only a small portion of patients have refractory seizure disorders — seizures that do not respond to medical, surgical or other appropriate treatments. Those patients who have benefitted from CBD have tried an average of 12 anti-epileptic medications, according to a study in Epilepsy Behavior. According to the new law, patients are only eligible for CBD if two traditional medications haven’t effectively treated their seizures, and two physicians have to approve the use of CBD.

Studies of CBD’s safety and effectiveness so far are very limited. Mouse models have suggested CBD’s efficacy to reduce seizures’ frequency, severity and duration, but medical treatments must also be proven to work safely in large numbers of humans. One long-term clinical trial is just beginning. The study will compare patients who have benefited from medical CBD found in a strain of marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web to those patients who have not seen improvement from this treatment. This and other studies may offer further insight.

For the moment, like all experimental treatments, CBD must be approached with caution.

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