Epilepsy is a persistent (chronic) condition of the brain. It involves unpredictable abnormal electrical discharges or misfirings of brain cells (neurons). This misfiring in the brain can cause episodes of bodily convulsions, loss of coordination, loss of consciousness or altered sensory states. These episodes are commonly called seizures. People with epilepsy have persistent and recurring seizures. One may be born with epilepsy, or may acquire it as a result of disease or injury.
Epileptic seizure are often classified as partial seizures or generalized seizures. Partial seizures are more common and start in an isolated part of the brain. Partial seizures can be described as either simple or complex. When a simple partial seizure occurs, a person retains consciousness. The person with epilepsy may experience uncontrollable twitching or stiffening in a limb. There may be a tingling sensation, a change in consciousness or an odd smell without a source. The subjective sensations that may warn of an impending event are called an “aura”.
Complex partial seizures cause an impairment of consciousness. During this type of seizure, a person may act confused, aimless, fidgety, emotional or disturbed. They are likely to have no memory of the event after it is over. A simple partial seizure may progress to a complex partial seizure and then become a generalized seizure as the abnormal electrical discharge spreads to the entire brain.
Generalized seizures involve abnormal discharges or misfirings in all regions of the brain and result in impairment of consciousness. Behavior during generalized seizures may range from a blank stare with little or no movement (petit mal or “absence” seizures) to dramatic bodily convulsions (grand mal seizures). During these convulsions, the patient may have difficulty breathing and turn blue. They may also bite their tongue and may lose control of urine or stool. When they regain consciousness, they do not remember the event and are very sleepy.
Epilepsy is conventionally treated with a class of drugs called anticonvulsants. Standard drugs in this class include carbamazepine (Tegretol), phenytion (Dilantin), primidone Mysoline, valproic acid (Depakote), clonazepam (Klonopin), ethosuximide (Zarontin) and phenobarbital. Newer drugs are coming on to the market but there is less experience using them. Doctors prescribe anticonvulsants or antiepileptic drugs according to the types of seizures patients experience and how well the patient can tolerate the drug. Many patients have a poor response to these drugs even when taken in combination.
In addition to problems with effectiveness, there can be serious side effects resulting from the use of anticonvulsants. While these side effects do not always occur, they can include nausea, headaches, loss of hair, swelling of gum tissue, impotence, depression, poor coordination (ataxia), liver failure, depressed blood counts and even psychosis.
Some people with grand mal seizures say they can prevent their seizures entirely by smoking marijuana. Others, who suffer complex partial seizures, report that marijuana also curbs their symptoms and prevents loss of consciousness. Marijuana is not considered useful for treating petit mal or absence seizures and may even worsen them.
Some patients find that marijuana works in conjunction with other drugs they are taking. Others find that marijuana works best for them when it is used without other drugs. Either way, these epileptic patients have made marijuana a necessary part of their medical treatment.
People using marijuana to control epilepsy should be aware that withdrawal from any medication that controls seizures may leave you more susceptible to the seizures. Marijuana is no exception. Patients with epilepsy are advised to exercise caution when using oral THC because there is not sufficient knowledge about the convulsive or anti-convulsive properties of the single compound.
The anticonvulsant properties of marijuana may be the oldest of its known medical benefits. Marijuana was used as a medicine for epilepsy by ancient societies in China, Africa, India, Greece and Rome. Written testimonies of its usefulness, such as the one by Dr. W.B. O’Shaughnessy appeared in Western scientific journals in the 19th century. Dr. O’Shaughnessy’s classic account of the uses of marijuana in India was published by the Ohio Medical Society in 1860.
There is some contradictory data about marijuana having both convulsive and anticonvulsive effects. In a few cases, patients have reported experiencing seizures after taking extremely high doses of oral THC. Site the one study most common… It is for this reason that Marinol is not thought to be safe or effective for controlling epilepsy.
Throughout the mid 1970’s and early 1980’s, Dr. Paul Consroe of the University of Arizona, conducted a number of studies using both THC and CBD on animals. He found that while high doses (near lethal) of THC can trigger convulsions in seizure susceptible animals, the administration of cannabidiol (CBD) in similar or higher does not cause convulsions. His studies concluded that CBD may have powerful anticonvulsant properties which counteract the muscle-exciting effects of THC when both compounds are delivered to the body in marijuana. However, small studies in which cannabidiol alone was administered did not yield consistently favorable results. This may point to the fact that the safest and most effective way to treat epilepsy with marijuana is to use all of its compounds together by smoking the plant rather than ingesting its separate ingredients.
In 1975 a report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, marijuana smoking controlled the seizures in one 24-year-old patient when combined with conventional anit-epileptic medicine. The subject had experienced incomplete control of his seizures on a regimen of the anticonvulsant drugs, phenobarbital and phenytoin (Dilantin), and complained of grand mal seizure attacks as often as every two months. At the age of 22, he began smoking two to five marijuana cigarettes a day, in conjunction with his regular anticonvulsant medication. At this point, his doctors observed that his epileptic seizures completely stopped.
In 1980, a study appeared in Pharmacology involving 16 patients with grand mal epilepsy who had not responded well to treatment with standard antiepileptic drugs. Each patient was given 200 to 300 milligrams of cannabidiol or a placebo in addition to their antiepileptic drugs. Of the eight patients who received cannabidiol, three experienced complete improvement, two showed partial improvement, two showed minor improvement and one was unchanged. The only adverse side effect was mild sedation. Of the eight placebo patients, only one showed substantial improvement. The other seven patients showed little or no improvement. The report concluded that cannabidiol combined with standard antiepileptic drugs may be effective for controlling epileptic seizures in some patients.
Over recent years of more lenient attitudes towards the sale of marijuana seeds, many of these treasures have once again become available. The hard work and perseverance of the few brave pioneers who have maintained their old strains through the war against them is to be commended. Breeders like DJ Short with Blueberry and Flo, or the many unnamed others responsible for strains like Hawaiian Sativa or Mighty Mite, have proven what can be accomplished despite the oppression placed upon our culture. Yet marijuana still remains illegal, and strains like Blueberry could very easily go the way of the super Sativas of the Seventies, unless measures are taken to preserve these genetics. Until the legal status of our favourite plant is changed, this responsibility lies on the shoulders of the underground cultivator. Preserving our future The main reason for the current Indica-ized status of today’s popular strains is quite simple: legal implications for both personal and commercial growers dictate that they must produce the maximum amount of bud in the minimum amount of space. Once marijuana finally achieves full legalization many growers will likely reconsider their choice of strains, both to fill niche markets as well as personal taste. We must plan so that when legalization happens, the few strains that have been bred with quality as a primary concern are still with us. For outdoor growers, strains that have been acclimated for years in their locale are indispensible. Many of these growers have spent decades perfecting a strain for their exact climate, yet all of this work can be lost instantly as a result of a bust or simply not having anyone to pass them down to. Cannabis genetics can be maintained for many years simply by keeping a clone alive, however this doesn’t do much for preserving the genetic diversity of a strain. Ideally, seedlines should be both preserved through long term storage and being grown out and seeded each year. Inbreeding depression Much myth and misinformation is spread in marijuana literature regarding inbreeding depression in cannabis populations. As a result, much of the genetics on the market today is merely a collection of cross after cross of different varieties with little effort towards stabilizing unique traits. Proof that marijuana can be successfully inbred lies in examples of inbred lines like Skunk #1 or Northern Lights, which have shown no signs of inbreeding depression after decades of incestuous crosses. Understanding how marijuana has evolved helps to explain this. In countries where marijuana originates it has evolved alongside humans, often being maintained in small family gardens amongst other food and medicine crops. Much of today’s gene pool originated in Afghanistan, where cannabis was grown like this in small family plots for generations, until the advent of large fields in the 70’s and 80’s. Plant phenotypes varied slightly from one valley to the next, and the pollen carried by wind from the slightly different gene pool of cannabis in the next valley maintained population vigour and prevented inbreeding depression. We can reproduce this scenario easily ourselves by maintaining several lines of the same strain, crossing them into each other every few years. For example, when you grow out a pack of ten true breeding seeds pick the nicest female and seed it with two or more different males (marking which branch was pollinated by which male). Seed from each cross must be kept separate, and future generations kept from crossing with other lines. Every third or fourth generation these lines are crossed together and new lines brought out of the resulting seeds. Some of the seeds from each generation should be saved for long-term storage in case of accidental cross-pollination or crop loss down the road. Isolation distances Whether growing indoors or out, isolation distances are something that you should always be aware of. Marijuana is a wind pollinated plant, meaning that pollen is carried by wind from the male to the female recipient, sometimes over very long distances. The recent legalization of hemp, although a major step forward, has caused some concern for marijuana growers. These fields consist of thousands of plants which generate an immense amount of pollen, which will seed marijuana just as easily as it will hemp. Other growers in your area and other strains which you yourself may be trying to keep pure are also possible contaminators to breeding projects. Isolation distances will vary depending on geography, wind currents and vegetation coverage. However a safe rule of thumb is to isolate outdoor crops from each other and hemp fields by at least a half mile. Indoors this is not as much of a concern, as males can be watched carefully and covered with a paper enclosure to prevent pollen from drifting to other plants. A question of latitude The most popular theory of the evolution of cannabis is that all cannabis originated in the Himalayas and spread gradually throughout the world. Under varying human and environmental pressures cannabis has evolved into all ends of the spectrum from low THC long fibered hemp strains to couch-locking Indicas. Latitude has definitely played a key role in this matter, influencing THC levels as well as ratios of THC to CBD. Most drug strains originate between 37° North and 35° South of the equator, with some of the highest quality strains coming from very near the equator (most notable Southeast Asia at 10-20° North). As you get up into the more Northern latitudes (like Russia), cultivated and feral cannabis leans more towards the hemp end of the spectrum, with low THC and high CBD. This makes the job of maintaining marijuana varieties outdoors at common North American latitudes of 44-50° North a little more complicated. Without selection for high THC parents, pure strain marijuana can drift towards phenotypes of its hempen cousins. Put simply, as the latitude is not exerting pressure on the gene pool to uphold its high THC traits, human influence must step in by diligently selecting the most potent plants as parents for future generations. Legendary strains like Matanuska Thunderfuck (bred outdoors in Alaska) and Friesland Indica (outdoors for Northern Holland) are living proof that this high THC trait can be maintained at Northern latitudes. Common vegetable seed saving techniques, like open pollination and collecting seeds from many different plants then mixing them together, must be avoided. This could likely be the reason for the low THC nature of many of the strains coming from large Swiss fields in past years. Up until recently these fields were grown out and seeded freely with little goal in mind other than acclimatization. Long term storage As seeds are living things they have a life span and decline in vigour as they age. For medium term storage an air-tight container in the refrigerator works well. Long term storage is the best way to preserve these special strains for tomorrows growers, and for this freezers work great, provided a few rules are carefully followed. Most important is that the seed be dried below the 8% moisture level, as above this the water in the seed will expand upon freezing and burst the cell walls. This drying is done with the use of silica gel and an airtight container. The gel can be obtained from any vegetable seed company and many gardening stores. The seeds and gel are sealed in the same container and the gel will change color, indicating the moisture that it has absorbed from the seed. Seeds should be wrapped in tissue paper and sealed in an airtight container before being put into the freezer, as frozen seeds are very fragile and the paper will protect the seed from shattering if bumped. Seeds stored like this will retain vigour and high germination ratios for long periods of time. When thawing seeds for use, allow them to fully adjust to room temperature before opening the container. This will prevent unwanted condensation from forming on the seed surface. Allow the seeds to regain most of their original moisture level by sitting open for a few days before being germinated. Stand Tall Once a cross has reached the F5 or F6 generation it can be considered an inbred line and can be relatively easily maintained using the above techniques. Many of the strains listed in catalogues are inbred lines and may or may not be indicated as such. If this is a strain that a seed company has put years of time and work into bringing to this point it is considered unfair to reproduce their work and sell it yourself, but there is nothing wrong with preserving their genetics for yourself or to pass on to future generations should it no longer be commercially available. Preserving cannabis genetics under the current legal climate is as honourable a pastime as there is.