Medical marijuana

December 05, 2004

Helen Fields, U.S. News & World Report

Even though there's not a lot of evidence that it helps, many patients with epilepsy use marijuana, hoping it will reduce their seizures. Researchers in Alberta, Canada, asked epilepsy patients if they were smoking pot.

What the researchers wanted to know: How common is marijuana use among epilepsy patients?

What they did: Patients seen at the University of Alberta Epilepsy Clinic were called and asked about their condition and whether they use medical marijuana.

What they found: Of 136 subjects, 48 (35 percent) had used marijuana in the past month. Nearly half had used it at some time in their lives, and four were determined to be dependent on the drug. People with frequent seizures or who'd had the disease longer were more likely to use marijuana frequently—which could mean that using marijuana makes seizures happen more often but could also mean that patients whose disease was worse were more likely to try alternative treatments. Not surprisingly, people who used other illicit drugs were also more likely to smoke marijuana.

What the study means to you: Many people with epilepsy seem to think marijuana helps. Animal studies have come up with conflicting results—in some, marijuana increases convulsions, while in others it has an anticonvulsant (somewhat more desirable) effect. In any case, if many patients are using marijuana, it seems worth studying more.

Caveats: This is one clinic in Canada, so the findings probably don't apply to everyone with epilepsy, especially if they live in places with stricter marijuana laws. (Medical use of marijuana is legal in Canada under certain conditions.)

Find out more: The people who run the website the Science of Medical Marijuana are—no surprise—in favor of medical marijuana. They list a few reports and studies:

Go to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for information and resources about epilepsy.

Read the article: Gross, D.W., et al. 'Marijuana Use and Epilepsy: Prevalence in Patients of a Tertiary Care Epilepsy Center.' Neurology. June 8, 2004, Vol. 62, No. 11, pp. 2095–2097

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