Marijuana and ‘spice’ could trigger seizures, study says
While a number of studies have suggested that marijuana may be effective for reducing seizures, new research cautions that potent and synthetic forms of the drug have the opposite effect.
Share on Pinterest Researchers suggest that the use of potent cannabinoids have the potential to trigger seizures.
Researchers from the University of Tsukuba in Japan found that natural tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the psychoactive chemical in marijuana – and the synthetic cannabinoid JWH-018 caused seizures in mice.
Study leader Olga Malyshevskaya and colleagues say that their findings – which are published in the journal Scientific Reports – should serve as a “public alert” to the potential harms caused by high-potency and synthetic marijuana.
While marijuana remains that “most commonly used illicit drug” in the United States, it is becoming increasingly legalized in individual states for medicinal purposes, recreational purposes, or both.
There has been increasing research for the use of marijuana – particularly a cannabinoid in the drug called cannabidiol (CBD) – in the treatment of seizures in patients with epilepsy, though a debate surrounding its efficacy continues.
The new study from Malyshevskaya and team suggests that general use of high-potency marijuana – that is, marijuana that contains high amounts of THC – may actually trigger seizures.
The research also found that seizures could be prompted by JWH-018, which is a manmade cannabinoid that is the primary component of the synthetic marijuana known as “spice.”
The researchers came to their findings by analyzing the brain activity of male mice after they received THC or JWH-018.
THC was given to the rodents in doses of 10 milligrams per kilogram (the equivalent to around 0.8 milligrams per kilogram in humans) and JWH-018 was administered in doses of 2.5 milligrams per kilogram (the equivalent to around 0.2 milligrams per kilograms in humans).
The team implanted electroencephalography (EEG) and electromyogram electrodes into the brains of the mice, which allowed them to monitor any seizure-related electrical activity in response to the drug compounds.
The movement and behavior of the rodents was also monitored through video recording.
The study revealed that the mice experienced seizures shortly after administration with both THC and JWH-018, though seizure frequency was significantly higher with JWH-018.
Seizure-related brain activity persisted for 4 hours after the administration of each drug, the team reports, but brain activity had returned to normal by the next day.
Interestingly, the researchers found that pre-treating the mice with AM-251 – which is a compound that binds to the cannabinoid-1-receptor – prevented seizures in response to THC and JWH-018.
As such, the team suggests that cannabinoid receptor antagonists could be useful for preventing seizures in the case of marijuana overdose.
According to the researchers, their results “provide strong evidence” that both plant-derived and synthetic cannabinoids have the potential to trigger seizures.
“On the other hand,” the authors note, “a substantial body of literature on cannabinoids in animal models shows mostly anticonvulsive effects.”
“However,” they add, “few of these used EEG recordings to assess epileptic events and many of them induced seizures either electrically or pharmacologically, changing signaling pathways and brain states prior to cannabinoid application.”
The team cautions that the doses of THC and JWH-018 used in their study were high and may not represent the doses normally seen with medicinal or recreational use in humans.
“It would be interesting in the future to also test lower doses, typically used medicinally or recreationally to determine whether the effect is lost or diminished,” they add.
Still, they believe that their findings should be viewed as a warning of the potential dangers of cannabinoids, particularly synthetic marijuana.
High-potency natural and synthetic cannabinoids were found to trigger seizures in mice, say researchers, with the latter posing the strongest effects.
“ Our study is quite important because unaware of the particularly severe effect by those cannabinoids, people see marijuana as a soft drug, without dangerous health effects.”
Marijuana and Epilepsy
Could a plant that was introduced to the United States by early settlers provide relief for people with epilepsy today? Marijuana (Cannabis sativa) has been grown in the United States since the early 1700s. Settlers brought the plant from Europe to produce hemp. Its use as a medicine was recorded in a reference book from 1850 titled “United States Pharmacopeia”.
According to a recent paper in The Journal of the International League Against Epilepsy (Epilepsia), marijuana was used to treat a variety of conditions in ancient China as far back as 2,700 B.C. They included:
There is also evidence it was used in medieval times to treat:
Marijuana was given the status of a “schedule 1” drug class in the U.S. in 1970. As a result, studying how safe and effective it is as a medicine has been difficult for researchers.
Many people suffering from epilepsy say marijuana stops their seizures, but there is little scientific evidence. Researchers must apply for a special license from the Drug Enforcement Administration in order to study marijuana. They need permission to access to a supply kept by the National Institute for Drug Abuse. These challenges have slowed research.
However, there have been a handful of studies conducted in the U.S. since 1970. Other studies, even some ongoing, have been done around the world.
The findings reveal that the most well-known active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is just one of a group of compounds which have medicinal effects. Another, known as cannabidiol (CBD), does not cause the “high” associated with marijuana. It is emerging as one of the plant’s leading medicinal compounds.
Based on these initial studies, there are many studies currently ongoing throughout the US and other countries that are trying to answer the question of whether a drug formulation of CBD can help control seizures.
Both THC and CBD are in a group of substances called cannabinoids. They bind to receptors in the brain and are effective against pain associated with conditions like multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS. By attaching to receptors, they block the transmission of pain signals. CBD binds to more than just pain receptors. It appears to work on other signaling systems within the brain and has protective and anti-inflammatory properties.
Exactly how it works in epilepsy isn’t fully understood. But there have been small studies that show the results of using CBD. Studies of mice published in Epilepsia have shown mixed results. While some found CBD was effective against seizures, others did not. This may be due to the way the drug was given, since some methods work better than others.
The idea of using the compounds found in marijuana to treat epilepsy is gaining appeal. Researchers must confirm its effectiveness, and solve the problem of strength and how to give it. Potency can vary widely from plant to plant. Inhaling the drug versus eating CBD can alter the strength as well.
While there is a mounting consensus among people with epilepsy that medicinal marijuana is effective, researchers caution that the side effects need to be better understood. It’s also not known how CBD might interact with other medications.
Like most anti-seizure medications, marijuana has been shown to affect memory. This might lead to missed doses, which can mean that seizures return. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that cannabis use in children can result in a measurable drop in cognitive abilities.
Side effects might also depend on how the drug is taken. Smoking it would pose a risk to the lungs, while eating it would not.
Talk to your doctor if you are suffering from epileptic seizures and are not responding to traditional treatments. They can explain your options and provide information about medical marijuana use if you live in a state that allows it.
There are still other options if your state has no provision law for medical marijuana. Your doctor can share the latest research news with you and help you determine if a clinical trial for new forms of treatment or therapy might be right for you.
Last medically reviewed on November 9, 2017Some people who suffer from epilepsy believe that marijuana stops their seizures. Two compounds found in the drug, THC and CBD, may have medical benefits. ]]>