There seems to be some internet confusion about the relationship between marijuana and seizures. Depending on the forum, conversation thread, or research source, marijuana can either contribute to seizures or can have anti-seizure benefits— so what is the real scoop? This article will shed more light on the existing research, so you can make an informed decision.
Can Marijuana Cause Seizures?
A few studies have investigated the possibility that marijuana may induce seizures in some people. One study found that long-term marijuana users who abstained for extended periods of time experienced serious cognitive disturbances involving learning, memory, attention, executing thinking, anxiety, and depression. Researchers suggest that such results indicate that chronic cannabis use may permanently alter brain architecture and functioning in brain areas associated with seizures.
Neuroimaging scans show that heavy, daily cannabis use over many years impairs blood flow and metabolic processes in the prefrontal, cerebellar, temporal, and frontal brain regions. This impairment could lead to acute-onset seizures or the development of tremors in the hands and legs.
Most cases of seizures occurring after smoking marijuana have been documented in adolescents, people with undiagnosed underlying health problems, and first-time cannabis users. A 2017 animal study involving mice receiving doses of cannabis containing high amounts of THC found that mice not only suffered seizures but also had difficulty breathing and walking. The researchers behind the study also emphasize the fact that marijuana cultivators are getting better at growing high-potency cannabis, or cannabis containing extra THC.
The Brain on Pot: Evidence Risk of Seizures Increases When You Use Marijuana
Research into how marijuana impacts the brain and nervous system reveals significant abnormalities in structural and functional components of the brain. Chronic marijuana users have specific brain areas that are smaller than the brains of non-users. What is especially interesting is that the brain region experiencing reduced volume is the same region associated with substance addiction– the orbitofrontal cortex.
Although tests reveal that long-term pot smokers have lower IQ scores compared to non-users, the difference in cognitive abilities does not seem to correlate with the brain abnormalities detected by MRIs. Instead, researchers suggest that an increase in functional and structural connectivity resulting from the loss of gray matter (i.e., the orbitofrontal cortex) is the result of the brain’s natural ability to compensate for arbitrary damage. However, the study asserts that this structural connectivity, or re-wiring of the brain, eventually begins deteriorating if chronic marijuana use continues.
Why Chronic Marijuana Users Seem to be “Fine”
The unusual structural wiring increase seen in long-term marijuana users starts to decline after about seven years, although users continue displaying more dynamic functional connectivity than non-users. Neuroscientists think this explains why long-time users of marijuana seem to be able to function normally in society, unlike heroin or methamphetamine addicts.
Effects of THC on the Orbitofrontal Cortex
In addition to discovering that gray matter composing areas of the OFC is more vulnerable to marijuana’s primary psychoactive constituent delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), researchers conducting the study assert that chronic use of marijuana appears to launch an intricate process that encourages neurons to make new connections to compensate for impaired areas of the OFC. However, further studies are indicated to determine if THC-caused changes to the brain are reversible when marijuana use is discontinued and if these effects also occur within the brain of an occasional marijuana user.
Younger Brains More Susceptible to THC’s Effects?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse discusses additional studies that indicate chronic marijuana use by young people is more detrimental to brain functioning than if marijuana is used later in life. Specifically, damage occurs to areas of the brain responsible for learning and memory, which explains why one New Zealand study found that people who were heavy marijuana smokers in their teens, 20s, and 30s lost eight IQ points over several decades of smoking every day. More importantly, lost or reduced cognitive abilities were never restored in those who stopped using marijuana as adults.
Losing Part of Your Brain to a Marijuana Addiction– Is It Worth It?
Disruption of the orbitofrontal cortex not only impairs cognitive abilities but also affects emotional and behavioral functioning as well. Primary disorders of damaged OFC circuitry involve emotion regulation, impulse control, decision-making skills, and expectation of reward– all disorders found in the substance abuse population.
So, what do all these study results have to do with marijuana causing seizures? A lot, according to clinical research. Seizures occur when something disrupts the ability of neurons to create and transmit electrical signals to other neurons. Seizures may also occur when neurons can’t receive and interpret signals from other neurons.
Marijuana contains chemicals like THC and CBD that interfere with normal neuronal activity in unpredictable ways. Underlying medical problems such as low blood sodium, blood vessel abnormalities in the brain, and undetected brain tumors can exacerbate the response your brain has to marijuana consumption.
Or, Is Marijuana a Safe Alternative to Treating Seizures?
Millions of people have watched the video of a man with Parkinson’s disease consuming a small amount of medical marijuana and experiencing the elimination of severe tremors. Within minutes, Larry is tremor-free, his muscles are no longer rigid, he speaks clearly, and he can hold his hands perfectly still in front of him.
What does research indicate about the effectiveness of marijuana and CBD oil for controlling seizures? Does CBD really help control tremors and seizures associated with neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) of receptors and the immune system seems to benefit the most from marijuana treatment for seizures and tremors. Two receptors in particular–CB1R and CB2R–are scattered throughout the nervous system and found on immune cells called microglia. People with epilepsy or other neurodegenerative disorders involving tremors have abnormal cell signaling that isn’t properly balanced. The result is overexcited signaling without the control of inhibitory responses.
CBD and THC mediate this imbalance by causing ECS receptors to release chemicals that restore balance to cell signaling. Additionally, immune cells with endocannabinoid receptors use CBD/THC to reduce neuroinflammation by releasing anti-inflammatory molecules called cytokines.
Using marijuana to reduce symptoms of neurological disorders does have several contraindications that carry risks of adverse side effects:
- Alcohol (THC can intensify the effects of alcohol)
- Protease inhibitors/antiviral medications (marijuana may reduce the effectiveness of these drugs)
- Anticoagulants (marijuana may increase the risk of bleeding)
- Antidepressants/SSRIs (some studies suggest marijuana could increase the risk of manic episodes)
Marijuana Addiction: Real or Not?
Marijuana use disorder affects about 30 percent of people who use pot daily for medical or non-medical reasons. Teen marijuana users are up to seven times more likely to eventually suffer from marijuana use disorder than adults. While not physically addicting like heroin, marijuana can be a psychologically addicting drug that causes withdrawal symptoms affecting mood, emotions, sleep, and appetite.
The severity of anxiety, agitation, insomnia, cravings, and depression that a chronic marijuana user experiences after abstaining for 24 hours are often bad enough to cause relapse. There may also be an increased risk of seizures and tremors in some users affected by reduced gray matter in the brain.
For help with a marijuana problem, call FHE Health. Our treatment programs are designed to address the individualized roots of any drug or alcohol problem, including marijuana.