When the side effects of antiepileptic drug are intolerable and epilepsy becomes uncontrolled, people with epilepsy resort to using cannabis products.
In the first Australian survey on the opinions and experiences of medicinal cannabis use in people with epilepsy held nationwide, it was revealed that 14 percent of people with epilepsy have used cannabis products to manage seizures.
The study revealed that of those with a history of cannabis product use, 90 percent of adults and 71 percent of parents of children with epilepsy reported success in managing seizures when they started using cannabis products.
The Epilepsy Action Australia study was done in partnership with The Lambert Initiative at the University of Sydney. The researchers surveyed 976 respondents to examine cannabis use in people with epilepsy, reasons for use and any perceived benefits reported by consumers or their caregivers. The results of the study were published in Epilepsy & Behaviour.
The survey revealed that:
- The main reasons for trying cannabis products across all respondents were to manage epilepsy resistant to treatment, and to obtain a better side-effect profile compared to that achieved with standard antiepileptic drugs.
- Fifteen percent of adults with epilepsy and thirteen percent of parents / guardians of children with epilepsy were currently using, or had previously used, cannabis products to treat epilepsy.
- The number of antiepileptic drugs used in the past was a significant forecaster of medicinal cannabis use in people with epilepsy, both adults and children.
Anastasia Suraev from the Lambert Initiative and lead author noted that the survey provides insight into the use of cannabis products for epilepsy and some of the likely factors that could influence use. It also provides fresh insights into the experiences of, and attitudes towards medicinal cannabis in people with epilepsy in the Australian community.
She added that despite the limitations of a retrospective online survey, the fact that that a significant proportion of adults and children with epilepsy use cannabis based products in Australia couldn’t be ignored. Many are in fact reporting considerable benefits to their condition.
Suraev urges that systematic clinical studies are needed to help understand the role of cannabinoids in epilepsy better.
Carol Ireland, the co-author of the paper noted that people often turn to cannabis products when they have not been able to control their epilepsy with traditional medication. She added that this emphasizes a growing need for people with epilepsy to educate health professionals and consumers on the use of cannabis. Safe and timely access to cannabinoid medicine should also be provided to reduce people’s reliance on illicit black market products.