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Cannabinoids in the Treatment of Epilepsy – A Literature Review

A Schwarz (a,b), AR Mohammad (b), S Pagliazzi (b)
a) Monash University, Melbourne, Australia; b) Under The Tree BioPharmaceuticals Pty Ltd, Australia

This summary aims to provide information about the potential use of cannabinoids in the treatment of epilepsy. Background information about the disease and the extent of epilepsy as a health problem is illustrated. The proposed mechanisms behind seizures are discussed, alongside a basic anatomy and physiology of the central nervous system. Finally, the current body of evidence on how cannabinoids could be a valuable addition and/or alternative to current treatments is examined. Cannabidiol has shown to have profound anticonvulsive effects in both animal and human trials, and has a favorable side effect profile. Large scale and multi-disciplinary research is required to validate the use of cannabidiol as an anticonvulsant and to further define its pharmacological action.

Keywords: epilepsy, seizure, epileptogenesis, anticonvulsant, cannabinoids, Cannabidiol


Definition of Epilepsy

Epilepsy as a term, describes the enduring predisposition of the brain to generate epileptic seizures. The international league against epilepsy (ILAE) added to this conceptual definition in 2014 (Fisher et al., 2014), stating that to be diagnosed with epilepsy, a patient must fit at least one of three categories;

  • A patient must have experienced two unprovoked seizures, at least 24 hours apart
  • A patient has experienced one unprovoked seizure, however there is a high chance of recurrence – this allows patients who have been put on treatment after a single seizure to fit the diagnostic criteria
  • A patient is diagnosed with an epilepsy syndrome

A seizure is the clinical manifestation of excessive and synchronous electrical activity within the brain. The presentation of seizures can vary greatly depending on the specificity of the areas of the brain that are affected, as well as the number of brain regions affected (Fisher et al., 2014).

Epileptogenesis is the process whereby the neuronal network in the brain changes over time to promote the development of seizures (Fisher et al., 2014).

Epidemiology & Impact

Current figures estimate that there are over 2.5 million people in Europe living with active epilepsy, defined by at least one seizure occurrence during […]

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