Although there is some scientific evidence that THC has potential to control convulsions, its mind-altering effects mean that much of the focus has turned to cannabidiol – particularly for childhood epilepsies that conventional drugs fail to control.
Two recent high quality randomised and placebo controlled trials showed that cannabidiol is an effective treatment for Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome, severe forms of epilepsy. The mechanism of action is unknown, but it may be due to a combination of effects, such as inhibiting the activity of neurons and dampening inflammation in the brain.
However, the tide may turn in favour of cannabidiol after a recent World Health Organisation review. This concluded that cannabidiol “exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential” but “has been demonstrated as an effective treatment of epilepsy … and may be a useful treatment for a number of other medical conditions.”
Cannabis is in the headlines for its potential medical benefits after the recent confiscation of cannabis oil medication from the mother of a 12-year-old British boy with severe epilepsy. The furore that ensued is shining a light on campaigns for cannabis oils to be made legal for medical reasons, and the UK government has now announced a review into the use of medicinal cannabis. Here’s what you need to know.
Are cannabis-based medications available for other conditions?
“Two people may eat a brownie [made with cannabis oil] and one may absorb massive amounts of cannabinoids and the other may not,” Ward said. “How long it takes to work and how long it stays in the system differs greatly.”
It’s a little more uniform when the product is absorbed by smoking or vaping the oil, Ward said. But, “there are obvious concerns about smoking something.” A 2007 review published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that smoking marijuana resulted in similar declines in respiratory system health as smoking tobacco. A similar review published in 2014 in The American Journal of Cardiology found that marijuana smoke inhalation can increase the chances of heart attack or stroke. Neither review analyzed the effects of vaping cannabis oil alone, so it’s unclear if it has the same health risks as smoking other marijuana products.
How are CBD oils consumed?
The physiological effects of cannabinoids can vary widely from person to person, and also depend on how they’re consumed. That lack of predictability is one of the reasons why cannabis oil is a challenging candidate for developing into a medicine, Ward told Live Science.
The popularity of medical marijuana is soaring, and among the numerous products consumers are seeking are CBD, or cannabis oils.
However, Bonn-Miller told Live Science that he thinks cannabis research is on the upswing. “If we flash forward five years I think you’ll see more studies,” he said. Those studies could reveal more conditions that CBD may be helpful for and may also reveal that some of the reasons why people say they use CBD oil are not supported by the science but are instead a placebo effect. “And that’s why we need to do the studies,” he said.
CBD and THC can affect how other medicines work. Always discuss possible interactions with a specialist.
Very few people in England are likely to get a prescription for medical cannabis.
Some products that might claim to be medical cannabis, such as “CBD oil” or hemp oil, are available to buy legally as food supplements from health stores. But there’s no guarantee these are of good quality or provide any health benefits.
What are the side effects?
It will not get you high, because it does not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical in cannabis that makes you high.
It is licensed in the UK for people with MS-related muscle spasticity that has not got better with other treatments.
If the above does not apply to you, do not ask a GP for a referral for medical cannabis.
And some cannabis-based products are available on prescription as medicinal cannabis. These are only likely to benefit a very small number of patients.