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"The mission of the Epilepsy Foundation is to stop seizures and SUDEP, find a cure and overcome the challenges created by epilepsy through efforts including education, advocacy and research to accelerate ideas into therapies."


Medical Marijuana: A Miracle For Epilepsy?

Illinois has formally joined several other states in legalizing medical marijuana for patients with certain debilitating medical conditions. Certainly people with Epilepsy are eager to understand their treatment options under the Medical Marijuana Act. Illinois' new law does not include epilepsy as one of the medical conditions covered for medical marijuana. But its use for seizures is spreading across the United States. This article will throw some light about medical marijuana and a review of the Illinois’ Medical Marijuana Act.

The supposed medicinal benefits of marijuana are not new. However modern research in the recent past has confirmed the medicinal value. The March Issue of 1999 of the National Academy of Sciences Institute carried an article which narrated the powerful medicinal benefits of marijuana. As with any other drug, there were potential risk factors.

Since the report by the National Institute of Medicine about the medicinal benefits of marijuana, the substance's therapeutic powers continue to unfold.  Several individuals are reported to have experienced the benefits of using medical marijuana to treat or reduce the incidence of certain ailments such as multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, cancer and other ailments that do not respond well with conventional medicine. Those with seizures are also hopeful for help.

Most recently some patients have reported a huge reduction in the episodes of seizures. For example, Charlotte Figi (born October 18, 2006) is reported to have had her seizures reduced from as high as 300 episodes of Grand Mal Seizures a week to just 2 or 3 times a month on medical marijuana.  She is said to be almost seizure free just after two years on medical marijuana.

The story of Charlotte and others on Medical Marijuana has inspired a new breed of marijuana called “Charlotte Web”. Charlotte Web contains high-CBD, low-THC pot strains.

The Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the chemical component in marijuana responsible for making users “high”. It creates the euphoria feeling that users are looking for. Users may experience a perceptual alteration and intensification of the senses.

The THC is not without its side effects.  The short term impacts range from an impairment of motor skills and reaction time to short term memory loss.  Anxiety, panic reactions, and depressive feelings are also among the common side effects said to be experienced by users. The long term effects are not clearly known due to inadequate research.  Long term users are said to have an increased risk of developing schizophrenia especially among those who are vulnerable. Vulnerable people are those with pre-existing mental illness or people highly susceptible to mental illness.

The other component of Marijuana called Cannibidiol (CBD), is said to be the chemical responsible for the wide range of therapeutic benefits.  It does not get users” high” and it is non-psychoactive. 

The Charlotte Web medical marijuana was developed by extracting out THC component of the marijuana to produce a high CBD content.  The CBD content is turned into Alepsia or Real Oil. This oil is then given to the patient, which is hoped to work well on seizures.

Even though the substance (marijuana) has gained significant momentum in the medical field over the past few years, the long term risk factors are still largely unknown.   

As a result of the fact that the long term risk factor is still not clear, States and organizations observe cautionary measures on issues of medical marijuana.

Colorado law currently permits the use of medical marijuana for the following conditions: cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, muscle spasms, seizures, severe pain, severe nausea, cachexia or dramatic weight loss, and muscle atrophy.

As the result of the legislation and the production of medical marijuana in Colorado, several reports indicate that many families have either moved or are considering moving to Colorado for treatment, especially families with children diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome. This syndrome cause devastating, prolonged seizures and the new cannabinoid oil is especially being sought by parents who want to see their child’s seizures decrease dramatically.

The Illinois medical marijuana law is on “pilot” and is expected to be repealed on January 1, 2018. Under the law patients are only permitted to acquire a maximum of 2.5 ounces from approved source for a 14 day period. However patients whose conditions require a higher may be granted a waiver.  Patients requiring medical marijuana will need to apply for a permit card for a fee. Their care givers are also required to apply for permit card. Under the Act, convicted felons would not be allowed to get a marijuana card.

The Illinois Medical Marijuana Act which is called Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, currently allows patients with 30 debilitating medical conditions. Some of the “debilitating medical condition” as stated in  Section 10, sub section (h) of the act include hepatitis C, HIV AIDS, cancer and among others.

Seizures and Epilepsy are not currently listed. However the Act under Section 45 allows additions of other debilitating medical conditions. A nine-member advisory board is set up to review petitions for adding medical conditions to the list approved for marijuana. This gives people an opportunity to submit petitions for any medical condition they want added to the list. The board will have within 180 days to either approve or deny an application.

Under the proposed rules of regulations, patients will have to pay $150 yearly in order to secure a special photo ID to buy medical marijuana.  Qualified caregivers of qualified patients are required to pay $125 yearly to also secure a photo ID in order to buy and handle the substance on behalf of their patients.  Even though patients on Social Security Disability Income would pay a low fees of $75 a year, there is still a concern that a lot of people may find a hard time paying for it. There is also a huge concern about inaccessibility of the substance because; there will a limited number of growers and dispensaries around the state. Patients may have to travel long distances to acquire the substance.

Since the risk factors of marijuana are still not clearly known, the Epilepsy Foundation encourages  individuals with seizures  to seek out an epilepsy specialist.  However, the Foundation supports the rights of patients and families living with seizures and epilepsy to access physician directed care, including medical marijuana. This call was contained in a press release issued on Thursday February 20. 2014 by Philip M. Gattone, President & CEO of the National Epilepsy Foundation, and Warren Lammert, Chair, Epilepsy Foundation Board of Directors.

The Epilepsy Foundation also calls for an increase in medical marijuana access and “unbiased” research. Finally, the three Epilepsy Foundations throughout Illinois are working at this time to add certain types of epilepsy and seizures as a medical condition to be covered under the new Illinois Medical Marijuana law.