Cannabidiol (CBD) oil has more healing potential than you can shake a medicine dropper at, but the substance – one of more than 100 active cannabinoids found in marijuana – is perhaps best known for its effects on people with epilepsy.
In fact, if you’re on social media (who isn’t?) then you’ve probably seen viral videos of people’s seizures halted, often within seconds, when given CBD oil. Encouragingly, many of those videos involve youngsters who had a hellish childhood before their parents discovered CBD oil.
One such example is Annalise Lujan, a tween from Tucson, Arizona, who made headlines in May 2017 when her family came forward to detail the girl’s experiences with CBD oil. 
Lujan suffers from an extremely rare brain disorder known as Febrile Infection-Related Epilepsy Syndrome, or FIRES. The condition affects about 1 in a million children, and its cause is unknown. People with FIRES typically develop a mild febrile illness, usually a minor upper respiratory tract infection or gastroenteritis. Between one day and two weeks later, seizures start to set in and rapidly increase in number and severity. 
It’s tough to treat FIRES with traditional anti-seizure medication, and two-thirds of children go on to suffer mild to severe cognitive impairment. The vast majority of young FIRES patients are left with severe chronic epilepsy.
Lujan fell ill during a gymnastics competition, and shortly thereafter had to be put on a ventilator and into a medical coma. 
Doctors at Phoenix Children’s Hospital saved Lujan’s life by giving her CBD oil, which required them to get rapid approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Forty-eight hours after her first dose, Lujan seizures had nearly stopped, and the girl opened her eyes. Saving the youngster was an uphill battle, but she eventually came out of her coma and started to take back her life.
According to a GoFundMe update posted in late October 2017, Lujan is out of the hospital. She is still recovering, but her recovery has been dramatic. She is very physically active and still participates in gymnastics, and the 12-year-old recently received an honor roll award.
The Research and Politics of CBD
Researchers have been studying the effects of CBD oil on epilepsy for more than four decades. The findings of the first study to suggest that CBD could treat seizures was published in 1973. The study compared the seizure-soothing abilities of 3 cannabinoids: non-psychoactive CBD, psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and non-psychoactive cannabinol (CBN). CBD was the clear winner. 
There was a flurry of CBD studies launched in the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, but research largely ground to a halt in the next two decades. Politics played a major role in that – specifically, former President Richard Nixon’s politics.
Cannabis was temporarily placed in the Schedule I category for drugs in 1970. The DEA defines the drugs on this list as those “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
Cannabis’s temporary classification was meant to allow the Nixon-appointed National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse to study cannabis and its medicinal effects. In 1972, the commission recommended that the prohibition on marijuana be lifted, but Nixon ignored the recommendation, and cannabis has been illegal at the federal level ever since.
But Americans’ attitudes about cannabis have softened in the nearly 50 years since the feds first criminalized the plant, including those of politicians. Though marijuana possession is still a federal crime, the majority of U.S. states now allow its citizens to have access to it in some form for medicinal purposes, recreational purposes, or both. This evolution has made it significantly easier for scientists to study CBD oil for epilepsy, though a patchwork of state laws and the stigma associated with it still present challenges.
With that said, let’s take a look at some of the more recent studies showing CBD’s power to treat epilepsy.
CBD Shown to Slash Seizures in Kids with Rare Epilepsy
In the spring of 2017, a study was published in the revered New England Journal of Medicine that found CBD reduced the number of convulsive seizures in children with Dravet syndrome, a severe and often fatal form of epilepsy. 
In the study, which involved 120 patients ranging in age from nearly 2 to 18 years, the decrease in the number of convulsive seizures was 23 percentage points greater than the decrease in seizures among children taking a placebo.
While the lead author of the study, Dr. Orrin Devinsky, director of NYU Langone’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, said CBD is “not a panacea” for children with Dravet syndrome, the findings are significant because, like FIRES, existing epilepsy medications usually don’t work on the disorder.
“After 3,800 years of cannabis use for epilepsy … we finally have solid evidence.”
The study was funded by GW Pharmaceuticals, a drug company that is researching and developing CBD-based anti-epileptic drugs. 
Other research funded by GW Pharmaceuticals shows that CBD oil is effective at lessening the number of seizures in people with a rare form of epilepsy known as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), which usually starts in children between the ages of 3-5.
The findings of the study were published April 18, 2017, and were presented at the American Academy of Neurology 2017 Annual Meeting in Boston.
LGS can be caused by any number of things, including brain malformation, severe head injury, central nervous system infection, and an inherited degenerative or metabolic condition. No cause is found for the disorder in up to 30% of cases.
Patients with LGS typically experience multiple types of seizures, including “drop seizures,” which are usually very brief atonic seizures that involve the muscles suddenly going limp resulting in head nods, loss of posture, and falling to the ground.
The study involved 225 patients with LGS, with a mean age of 16 years. Thirty percent of the patients were adults. The participants experienced 8 or more drop seizures over the course of a 4-week baseline period, with failure of at least one anti-epileptic medication.
Among the volunteers in the study, a median of 6 anti-epileptic drugs had failed, and the participants were currently taking a median of 3 anti-epileptic medicines.
Patients who were given 20 mg/kg of CBD oil saw a 42% decline in drop seizures, and those who received 19 mg/kg of CBD saw a 37% reduction.
In total, 66% of the patients who took the lower dose of CBD and 57% of participants who took the higher dose reported an improvement in their overall condition compared with 44% for placebo.
Many of the study volunteers experienced adverse effects; however, lead researcher Anup Patel, MD, associate professor of neurology and pediatrics, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus, noted:
“This is a very sick population of patients and they often have other problems.”
Most of the adverse effects were minor, and no one died during the trial. Additionally, the Epilepsy Foundation points out that CBD can interact with some anti-epileptic medicines.
The “Official” Word
In case you were wondering, the Epilepsy Foundation acknowledges that CBD “has shown some positive effects on certain body systems and may potentially affect seizures.” The group states on its website:
“The Epilepsy Foundation is committed to supporting physician-directed care and to exploring and advocating for all potential treatment options, including medical cannabis and cannabidiol (CBD). We support lifting federal barriers to research on cannabis and CBD and support access to these potential therapies, through state-regulated programs, for individuals when other treatment options have failed. If a patient and their health care team feel that the potential benefits of medical cannabis for uncontrolled epilepsy outweigh the risks, then the patient should have safe, legal access to medical cannabis.” 
The Epilepsy Foundation goes on to say that “some people living with uncontrolled seizures have reported beneficial effects and reduced seizure activity when using medical cannabis, especially strains rich in CBD, or CBD.”
 KVOA Tucson
 The Denver Post