Epilepsy And Cannabis (A Story): Correlation Or A Fluke?

Epilepsy And Cannabis (A Story): Correlation Or A Fluke?

Is there a healing link between epilepsy and cannabis? Here's one story exploring that possibility. 

A friend of mine mentioned that her boyfriend had wrecked his car during a seizure, and that spurred a subsequent conversation, during which I found out that the seizures came after he had stopped smoking marijuana. So of course, I had to get the story straight from the source. 

*Note: The name “Andrew” used in this article is an alias, as it is about an individual who resides in a state where cannabis is not legal for medical or recreational purposes. His identity has been withheld at his request due to the illegal nature of his cannabis usage.

Here’s what I learned.

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When he was in college, Andrew wrecked his bike and fractured his skull. (Sidenote: Wear a helmet!) He suffered a subdural hematoma, which is a bleed on surface of the brain classified as a traumatic brain injury (TBI). During and after his recovery, Andrew smoked marijuana fairly regularly.

Fast-forward a couple of years. Andrew graduated from college and got a job a couple hours away from his hometown.

“I felt like I was on top of the world,” he says. “I had this great job, I bought a new car. Things were going really well for me.”

And then Andrew got busted with the largest amount of marijuana he’d ever even had in his possession.

He owned up to everything as soon as an officer who pulled him over addressed the smell of weed in the car, and was ultimately placed on probation for a misdemeanor offense. As a requisite of his probation, Andrew underwent routine urine tests for 6 months. In other words, no smoking. About three months into the probationary period, Andrew experienced his first seizure.

“I guess the first one was when I woke up in the floor one morning, and I had knocked over my nightstand,” he says. “I thought it was strange, but I didn’t think too much of it. Ultimately, the reason I went to the doctor was just to get established with a primary care physician.”

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It was during this routine visit that the “rolling out of bed” story came up. The nurse practitioner he was seeing considered it a red flag and referred him to a neurologist.

The neurologist recommended an EEG (electroencephalogram), which is used to determine whether or not there is abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Andrew says that test only took about 20 minutes, and shortly thereafter, he learned that he had experienced several small seizures during the test.

“Around that same time, while I was waiting on the test results, I had a car accident while driving to work one morning,” Andrew says. “I just drove off the road into a ditch and rolled my car because I had a seizure while I was driving. I was flown to the hospital and had a compression fracture in three or four vertebrae in my back. That’s when it was like, ‘We really gotta figure this out.’”

The timing of these events meant that Andrew was recovering from a broken back and trying out epilepsy medications simultaneously. The first seizure medication he took was called Keppra, and he says it made him extremely emotional.

“I thought I was just having a bad time because I broke my back in a car accident and wasn’t able to drive,” Andrew says. “But I started to realize it was the medication. I cried a bunch one day, I was very irritable, prone to shouting. So I got off that one.”

Andrew tried a couple other medications, and those caused him to break out in rashes.

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After trying out about five different medications in all, he’s now taking one called BRIVIACT, which he says is working well. He noted that it’s typically used as a supplementary medication, but he’s using it as his primary form of treatment.

So how does this all add up?

According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately one in five individuals who have suffered a traumatic brain injury will experience a seizure. While he notes that he can’t quantify his suspicion, Andrew says he has wondered if the TBI he experienced during his bike accident in college caused the seizures he experienced later on. He also hypothesizes that smoking marijuana afterward was preventing the onset of epileptic symptoms.

Andrew says he’s currently not smoking, simply because his neurologist advised against it and the gravity of the situation is immense. However, he says that he wishes there was a clear line that could be drawn between the use of cannabis products and the reduction of seizures.

“I like to think that marijuana was keeping me from having seizures, but I am barely educated in that realm,” Andrew says. “I just wish that there were opportunities to have real seizure patients use quality cannabis products while connected to an EEG machine to find out how that really affects you. I’d really like to know what the correlation between epilepsy and marijuana is.”

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to suggest that epilepsy patients should attempt to self-medicate with cannabis products. Speak to your healthcare provider before altering any treatment plan.

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