Article By: Elizabeth Bruenig, New Republic
I had come to meet Dr. Angel Hernandez, the director of the hospital’s pediatric epilepsy program. A trail of wall-mounted signs led me to the pediatric neurology ward, a bright and airy space with flat-screen TVs running cartoons nonstop. Decorative kites were strung up in the corridors, and rainbow curtains lined the windows. Some of the kids in the waiting area that morning were alert and awake, others groggy. Some were strapped into special strollers designed for children with mobility problems, and some had shaven heads and healing scars. Hernandez came out to greet me, and I was surprised he recognized me after what felt like a very long time. He had diagnosed me with epilepsy in 2004 and treated me for several years.
For most people with epilepsy, diagnosis sets off a gauntlet of trial-and-error attempts to find the right medication. The process is tortuous, with seizures alternately dying down and flaring up while side effects— fatigue, nausea, liver damage, and more—develop without warning. This is partly due to the fact that “epilepsy” is actually a broad category that includes a number of distinct seizure disorders. About 30 medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are currently used to treat these conditions, and when a person first begins having seizures, there is often much tinkering with combinations and dosages. I spent years battling side effects like vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and severe headaches, which were alleviated only by yet another prescription medication. Parents who endure enough sleepless nights caring for a sick child can become desperate for a cure.
In the past few years, just such a cure has seemingly presented itself. Amid the less common remedies that can be found on the internet—special diets, meditation, biofeedback, surgical implants—a new product has recently gained prominence: CBD oil (sometimes known simply as “hemp oil”), so named for its chief chemical compound, cannabidiol, which occurs naturally in cannabis plants. In online forums and news articles, CBD has been hailed as a new frontier in epilepsy treatment, with parents testifying that it managed to stop their children’s seizures when nothing else could.
Over the past two years, 17 states have passed laws legalizing CBD so that patients can obtain the drug without fear of prosecution from local authorities. For intractable childhood epilepsies—the sorts of seizure disorders that for centuries have ruined lives and shattered families, the ones even specialists like Hernandez dread—CBD could be a miracle cure.
In his office, however, Hernandez was wary of the CBD boom. He advises well-meaning parents to think twice about voyaging into the world of over-the-counter hemp oil treatments, even if their circumstances are dire. “It’s a huge gimmick that a lot of companies are using,” Hernandez said. “You don’t know what you’re getting. … There’s a major quality problem.”
Indeed, hemp oil products have grown out of a market largely devoid of regulations or safety protocols. The state of the CBD industry harks back to the age of elixirs and potions hawked from covered wagons to the awed denizens of pioneer towns. There are no industry wide standards in place to ensure that CBD oils are consistently formulated batch-to-batch. There is no regulatory body screening products for pesticides, heavy metals, solvent residues, and other dangerous contaminants. The laboratories that companies contract to test their CBD products are themselves neither standardized nor consistently regulated. No medical research exists to recommend how much CBD a patient should take, nor is there detailed, reliable documentation of how CBD interacts with most epilepsy medications.
Taking CBD oil is like drinking milk and calling it calcium, Hernandez said: There’s some in there, but at very low concentrations dispersed among a host of other ingredients. And what those other ingredients are is anyone’s guess. “The thing to know is that CBD hasn’t gone through the safety controls, the efficacy controls that we usually use, the clinical trials,” Hernandez said. “The jury is still out regarding how safe this drug is.”
For more information, news, interesting facts & finds, as well as the many benefits derived from the use of Cannabidiol (CBD), please visit the blog on our website at CBD PUR US.