Legalize It: Medicine Struggles With Marijuana Epilepsy Cures

Epilepsy sufferers may find relief from seizures thanks to a chemical found in marijuana, but the nation's drug laws are preventing doctors from conducting important research.

Cannabidiol, an active ingredient in marijuana that doesn't get smokers high, has been proven to prevent epilepsy seizures, but researchers are having difficulty conducting large scale studies, according to a study published by WebMD.

Even though four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana and 23 other states have eased restrictions, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency. The federal government considers marijuana to have no redeeming medical value.

Those restrictive laws are hindering scientists' research into anti-seizure marijuana drugs, Dr. Daniel Friedman, a neurologist and epilepsy specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City told WebMD.

"While we don't know all of the long-term and short-term side effects of using cannabis and cannabidiol, we do know the impact of uncontrolled epilepsy, and that must be considered when looking at the use of cannabis."
Many epilepsy patients can control their disease with diet and one of the 20 different existing drugs, but 30 percent of epilepsy sufferers still suffer from seizures, each of which causes loss of cognitive functions, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Scientists struggle with medical marijuana epilepsy cures
HAMBURG, GERMANY - JUNE 02: A patient suffering from hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), a complication that can lead to kidney failure, convulsions and epileptic seizures and caused by enterohemorrhagic E. coli, also known as the EHEC bacteria, lies in a bed in the Nephrology Unit at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf on June 2, 2011 in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

In the United States about one in 26 people will develop some type of seizure-related epilepsy disorder, a central nervous system disorder characterized by brain cell disruption, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Some states, like Texas, have legalized the use of cannabis oil for epilepsy patients like 5-year-old Hanna, who was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 11-months-old.

Her father, Tim McMorris, told KXAN-TV the family had tried every conventional medicine on the market with no success.

"Hearing her doctor say that we are on the last medication, that this is pretty much the last straw for her. It really starts sinking on kind of hopelessness almost."
About two out of every five patients who received compassionate waivers from the government allowing them to use cannabis oil have experienced less frequent seizures.
Cannabis oil isn't the same as medical marijuana; patients can't get high from it. Its sole purpose is to ease the suffering of epilepsy patients and prevent seizures.

More clinical trials and research studies are needed, however, to determine medical strategies, effective treatment and discover any harmful side effects.

Photo by David McNew/Sean Gallup/Getty Images