CBD Oil and the Side Effects of Anti-Epileptic Drugs (AEDs)
Desperate for safe alternatives, and feeling out of hope, parents and caregivers of children with intractable epilepsy are gravely concerned about the adverse side effects associated with long-term use of anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). Is cannabidiol (CBD) oil a safer alternative?
What are anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs)?
Pharmaceutical drugs used to prevent epileptic seizures are called anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs). They are used as a preventative treatment to control seizures and stop them from happening or reduce the frequency with which they happen. AEDs cannot be used to cure epilepsy, or treat a seizure while it is happening.
What AEDs are commonly prescribed to epilepsy patients?
Do AEDs work for all cases of epilepsy?
Around 35% of people with epilepsy do not respond to anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs).
What is intractable epilepsy?
Epilepsy that does not respond to pharmaceutical AEDs is called intractable epilepsy. You may also hear it called refractory epilepsy.
Do anti-epileptic drugs have side effects?
Since antiepileptic drugs have a narrow therapeutic index and their adverse effects can affect any organ and apparatus, their widespread use has significant safety implications.
Side effects in AEDs are very common. Researchers suggest that 40-50% of patients who take just one AED will experience side effects.
Patients with epilepsy that is difficult to control are more likely to be on multiple AEDs. The more drugs you take at one time, the more likely you are to have adverse side effects. Therefore, patients with intractable epilepsy have a much greater likelihood of experiencing adverse side effects from these drugs.
What are the common side effects of AEDs?
“adverse effects remain a leading cause of treatment failure and a major determinant of impaired health-related quality of life in people with epilepsy”
The different types of side effects are extensive. Some of the most common side effects include:
- memory loss
- poor concentration
- drowsiness and sedation
- blurred vision
- loss of coordination and balance
- weight gain
- hair loss
- impaired learning
Why are neurotoxic side effects of AEDs common?
Neurotoxic side effects are common when first starting a new AED, because getting the dosage right to adequately control seizures—whilst also minimising side effects—is difficult. Adverse effects relating to dosage are probably the most common side effects of AEDs. Neurotoxic side effects include: “drowsiness, dizziness, fatigue, headache, blurry or double vision, impaired concentration or memory, or incoordination” (Mayo Clinic, 2009).
Do AEDs cause learning difficulties in children?
This 2011 research article published an extensive list of studies relating to AEDs and cognitive impairment. The researchers found that older classes of drugs were more likely to cause problems with cognitive function than the newer ones. Some of the drugs most likely to cause problems include: phenobarbital, primidone, phenytoin, sodium valproate, carbamazepine, and topiramate. Ethosuximide, levetiracetam, and lamotrigine were considered the least problematic, with potentially positive effects.
Did recent CBD-trial participants also take their AEDs?
Patients participating in the clinical trials of Epidiolex CBD isolate—conducted by GW Pharmaceuticals and discussed in Part 2 : CBD Oil For Intractable Epilepsy: The Science Behind Whole-Plant Extract vs CBD Isolate—continued to take their existing AEDs, in addition to the CBD formulation they were given during the trials. This explains why the conclusions coming out of these trials talk about the benefits of CBD, but only when used ‘adjunctively’ with existing AEDs.
Is CBD oil a safe alternative to AEDs for intractable epilepsy?
CBD oil has been documented time and again to be effective, safe, and well tolerated. The safety of high-quality, whole-plant CBD extract isn’t really in question.
However, without clinical trials behind it to prove its efficacy in seizure control—where the trial participants are not taking AEDs as well—regulatory authorities and clinicians would be predictably loathe to speak out in favour of using CBD oil as an exclusive treatment for intractable epilepsy.
Add to this the very real potential for big pharma to lose big money, and the silence on the subject of whole-plant CBD oil as an exclusive treatment for epilepsy and intractable epilepsy, becomes absolutely deafening.
Consider these questions. Why would you keep taking a drug that, (a) has dangerous side effects, and (b) does nothing to control the condition you are taking it for? Do AEDs control intractable epilepsy? No they do not. If AEDs do not control seizures in cases of intractable epilepsy, then what is the point of taking them? What are the risks of continuing to take AEDs, especially if they are not effective anyway?
Before making any decision about your child’s use of AEDs, we always recommend you work with your health practitioner.