Parents Using Cannabis Extracts to Stop Children’s Seizures Cite Failure and Dangers of Pharmaceutical Drugs
Note: The information in the following article is provided for educational purposes only; it is not intended to replace the advice of, or consultation with, a qualified healthcare professional who can address your family’s individual medical needs.
When we think of people who have epilepsy, probably most of us would picture adults who struggle with this chronic, devastating illness. But in reality, there are many young children and teenagers — and even newborns and infants just a few months old — who have the condition. In fact, in North America, according to a 2006 report authored by the National Institutes of Health and a handful of universities, including several from the United States, epilepsy is most common in children under five years of age and the elderly. (Source: International League Against Epilepsy.)
The World Health Organization estimates that 50 million people globally have epilepsy at any given time. In the United States, 5.1 million people have a history of the illness, while close to 3 million — 1 percent of the population — have active epilepsy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About half of all new epilepsy diagnoses are in children. (Source: Everyday Health.)
What Is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy, sometimes called a “seizure disorder,” is a condition that causes temporary, excessive electrical impulses to be discharged by brain cells, resulting in seizures. These discharges can occur in different parts of the brain, even in one person.
Seizures are the main indication that someone has epilepsy. Milder seizures can look like “staring spells” or make the person appear confused, while stronger ones can cause the person to fall, shake, lose consciousness and lose bowel or bladder control.
Seizures can be partial, also called “focal,” initially involving one part of the body and one area of the brain, or they are “generalized,” involving the entire body and both hemispheres of the brain.
There are dozens of different kinds of seizures under those two main categories; people with epilepsy often have more than one kind of seizure. Different seizure types are classified by the symptoms that they produce, and they can affect any of the five senses — smell, taste, vision, hearing and tactile — causing the person to smell, taste, see, hear or feel things that aren’t real.
In photosensitive epilepsy, seizures are usually triggered by visual, cyclic stimuli that move in time or space, such as flashing lights or rapidly changing images (examples: emergency vehicle lights, television images, etc.), or by static alternating patterns such as stripes. The triggering patterns tend to have high contrast, such as light alternating with darkness or white stripes on a dark background.
Some seizures produce outbursts of emotion for no apparent reason, such as laughter, fear, anger or aggression.
Seizures can impair a person’s sense of balance, even when muscle tone is not lost.
Frequency of seizures can vary: an epileptic could suffer less than one per year, or several or even hundreds of them a day. Usually, seizures last from seconds to a few minutes, depending on the type.
A diagnosis of epilepsy is given when a person has had two or more unprovoked seizures. Just one seizure in a person’s life does not necessarily indicate epilepsy, as other conditions can produce a seizure. These include: a high fever, low blood sugar, and alcohol or drug abuse or withdrawal. (Source: CDC.)
Childhood epilepsy can be caused by different factors, including loss of oxygen to the brain when a child is being born, traumatic brain injury, head injury, brain infection, brain tumors and some genetic defects like Down syndrome. But for two-thirds of all epilepsy sufferers, the cause is said to be “unknown.” (CDC.)
Fortunately, about 80 percent of children with epilepsy who have no other health conditions will outgrow the illness and no longer have seizures after a certain age. (Epilepsy can also go into remission for years at a time.) These children may not need to continue taking medications to prevent seizures, once the seizures stop.
That’s the good news. But while a child is suffering from epileptic seizures, it can be an extreme source of worry and hardship for the child’s parents, and it can produce a lot of suffering, pain and dangerous situations for the child.
Frequent trips to the hospital to try to stop recurring seizures or to treat injuries are a way of life for many parents of epileptic children in the United States — these are families who have adequate access to medical care, which so many others in rural areas and other countries do not. Seizures often lead to dangerous and potentially deadly falls in both children and adults with epilepsy. Broken bones and head injuries are common. Premature death is up to three times higher in people with epilepsy than in the general population, from such events as falls, drownings, burns and prolonged seizures. (Source: World Health Organization.)
Children with seizures and their parents alike have to withstand impossible, dangerous sleep deprivation: a child whose sleep is frequently disrupted by seizures will not feel rested the next day, and neither will a parent who has to stay vigilant and tend to their child when the seizures strike during the night.
As terrible as all that is, there is more. Seizures can devastate a young child’s developing brain, causing injury to the brain that could lead to arrested development or permanent brain damage. If a young child continues to have frequent seizures, he or she may lose the ability to talk or dress themselves, or never develop these skills, in the first place. A child who has suffered many strong seizures for years might operate at the level of a toddler, when he or she may be a teenager.
And even children whose brains have not been permanently damaged by the seizures will still suffer a lot of stigma and be ostracized by other students at school. After all, despite the fact that epilepsy is more common than a number of other chronic neurologic disorders, including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, it has been less publicized and receives less U.S. government funding for studies. (Source: Epilepsy Foundation of Delaware, efde.org.) Many outsiders still view epilepsy as a mysterious, odd illness.
Parents of epileptic children, then, feel it is imperative to do all they can to control their sons’ or daughters’ illness, short of resorting to operations like nerve-stimulation surgery or brain surgery, which in addition to being invasive, come with risks of their own. Parents are looking for safer, easier ways to end, or at least substantially reduce their children’s frequent seizures.
Parents of children with epilepsy — in particular, children with intractable epilepsy (that is, epilepsy that does not respond well to pharmaceutical drugs) — have been getting their extremely compelling stories onto the news media in the last several years, in an effort to bring attention to their children’s enormous, sometimes unrelenting, and potentially deadly suffering.
Cannabis Extracts vs. Pharmaceutical Drugs
These parents are baring their agonizing struggles to the world because of the recent discovery — or more accurately, the rediscovery — that extracts from Cannabis sativa L., the “marijuana” plant, reduce the number of seizures in many children by more than half, and in some cases, end nearly all, or all seizures entirely. Some cannabis compounds can also calm children who are prone to aggression due to their neurologic ailment, or as a side effect of pharmaceutical drugs.
These are not parents who are looking to get their children “addicted” to a drug; rather, they are mothers and fathers who have reached the end of their ropes. Parents who have tried putting their children on special diets, to no avail. They went through a dozen or more anti-epileptic pharmaceutical drugs, and the drugs either stopped working for their children, or they never worked, in the first place.
In addition, anti-seizure pharmaceuticals, including those that work, or work for a time, are often rife with many dangers, some of them serious and even potentially fatal. Wise parents fear exposing their children to these drugs, and they would rather have access to more natural alternatives.
Prime examples of dangerous anti-seizure pharmaceuticals, also called anticonvulsants, are the drugs Depakote and Depakene, both made and / or distributed by a Chicago, IL pharmaceutical company that recently split into two companies, each responsible for one of the drugs. These are the two most often prescribed drugs worldwide to control epileptic seizures. (They are also used to presumably treat the new alleged “mental illness” currently in vogue, so-called bipolar disorder.)
A few years ago, a Chicago business publication uncovered that the first and current chief executive officer of the newer company (which makes and / or distributes Depakote in various forms), or his employers, had substantially padded his academic credentials when he was president and chief operating officer of the first drug company. That company had stated on its website, and in filings it submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission for seven years, that the man held both a bachelor of science and a master’s degree in biochemistry. But now, we know that he doesn’t have a master’s degree in anything, and that he only attended undergraduate school for about a year, and he doesn’t have the bachelor of science that the company claimed he did, either. (Source: “Abbott spinoff CEO lacks claimed degrees,” by Andrew L. Wang, Sept. 27, 2012, Crain’s Chicago Business, ChicagoBusiness.com.) The new spinoff company has now changed its description of this man’s, its CEO’s, credentials, avoiding the subject of college degrees altogether.
Depakote and Depakene are prescribed as anticonvulsants to people of all ages in the United States, including two-year-olds and even younger children. And yet, next, we’ll look at many of the alarming and possibly fatal side effects that these two drugs can and do cause.
By Cynthia Sanchez. A graduate of the University of Washington, Cynthia has extensive experience writing about health and wellness topics for different media.