Mandy Van Schyndel remembers May 16, 2018, as the day her daughter Emma laughed for the first time. A remarkable milestone for an 18-month-old who started her life on hospice at the Mayo Clinic, not expected to survive. Even more remarkable that Emma’s parents credit a compound from a plant banned for more than 80 years with calming the disquieting symptoms of Emma’s conditions.
Faced with severe brain damage after suffering a bilateral stroke in utero, Emma’s diagnoses mounted: microcephaly, porencephaly, spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy. When her uncontrollable seizures started three months later, a fourth diagnosis was added: Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS).
“It’s a beast,” Mandy explained. “It’s one of the worst forms of epilepsy.”
As Emma’s seizures intensified, she experienced up to 12 cluster seizures daily. “It was really sad,” Mandy said. “She was losing some of the skills she had. She wasn’t smiling anymore and she wasn’t cooing as much.”
The disruptive nature of LGS took its toll on the family of seven in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. “It was hard to go to church,” admitted Mandy, “because if she fell asleep I knew she would wake up and have a seizure. And it wasn’t like a few seconds. It would cluster for an hour.”
After trying “many different concoctions of medications,” including steroid injections and 10 months on a ketogenic diet—none of which provided relief—the family faced reality.
“We went from trying to find seizure freedom to just trying to find any kind of reduction—to increase her quality of life.”
That’s when Mandy brought up the topic of hemp-based CBD oil with Emma’s neurologist. “I said [to him], ‘I know this is a taboo subject,’” said Mandy. “He said, ‘It’s not taboo. There’s really something to it.’ That was a nice reassurance to hear.”
What Is CBD?
Short for cannabidiol, CBD is one of the primary compounds or cannabinoids found in both hemp and marijuana. Though cousins in the cannabis family with a similar appearance, they have different chemical profiles. Unlike marijuana, hemp is non-psychoactive, meaning it can’t get you high and is legally defined as containing 0.3% or less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the controversial psychoactive component in marijuana.
Though hemp cultivation has been legal at the federal level since January 1, 2019 (it was lumped in with marijuana and declared illegal in 1937), some states continue to grapple with the legal learning curve. And while lawmakers wrestle over regulation, or the lack of it, motivated consumers and clinicians are doing their best to do their own research in the caveat emptor CBD market, which is estimated to reach $2 billion by 2020 and $16 billion by 2025.
From chewing gum and chocolate to mascara and lotion, CBD can now be found in a multitude of everyday consumables. Has your favorite coffee shop added CBD-infused cold brew coffee to the menu? Is there CBD honey at your local farmer’s market? Maybe you’ve even seen ads for pet treats with CBD?
While new storefronts and online retailers set up shop for eager customers, established wellness brands seem to be coming on board as well. Young Living Essential Oils announced to distributors they plan to release a hemp CBD-infused essential oil sometime in 2019.
“Hemp-based CBD oil is not the same as marijuana. You get the anti-inflammatory [effects], the pain relief without the high,” said Troy Spurrill, a chiropractor with a focus on functional neurology and founder of Synapse, a clinic based in Eagan, Minnesota. “For some people, it really is and has been a lifesaver.”
Seizure Free with CBD
After several months of searching for a quality product she felt comfortable with, Mandy found a high-quality, full-spectrum CBD oil.
“I honestly didn’t have super high hopes,” she admitted, “but I felt the pull to try it.” A friend encouraged her to try it with Emma. “She kept saying, ‘Just try it. It’s not going to hurt her.’”
Within three days of giving their toddler two drops of pure CBD tincture under her tongue twice a day, Mandy said they saw a “dramatic decrease” in Emma’s seizures. “It felt like the fog was lifted,” she said. “My child was awake under there. Now she’s laughing and smiling every single day!”
Emma went from having up to 12 seizures per day to going six months without one. “It’s miraculous,” Mandy said. “It baffles me that that minute amount can combat one of the most severe forms of epilepsy.”
Mandy said Emma’s therapists also remark on the significant changes in her daughter from a year ago. “She has more purposeful movement. She’s interacting with her peers. She’s playing with toys spontaneously. None of those things were happening before CBD oil,” said Mandy. “You can’t tell me that’s all a coincidence.”
It’s not a coincidence based on research either. Emma’s response seems consistent with the results of clinical trials, which showed CBD oil contributed to a significant reduction in the severity and frequency of severe epileptic seizures.
Those findings led to FDA approval last summer of Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical-grade CBD oil with trace amounts of THC, for seizures associated with two severe forms of epilepsy—Dravet syndrome and LGS—which Emma has. It’s the first time since the formation of the FDA that a drug from the cannabis plant has received approval.
The controversy surrounding the plant restricted research about it for many decades, but that didn’t stop Nobel Prize nominee Raphael Mechoulam from engaging in the process of inquiry and discovery, starting in the 1960s.
A Holocaust survivor and professor of medicinal chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mechoulam identified the first two cannabinoids (THC and CBD) and discovered the endocannabinoid system (ECS)—cannabinoids that the bodies of humans and vertebrates make on their own.
Considered one of the founding fathers of cannabinoid research whose work is covered in the documentary, “The Scientist,” Mechoulam has published hundreds of articles on medical cannabis, endocannabinoids, and CBD, advocating for CBD’s anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and neuroprotective benefits. In 1980 Mechoulam and his colleagues found CBD decreased seizures in epileptic patients.
During the last few decades, more than 100 cannabinoids have been identified in the cannabis plant, but THC and CBD are still the most abundant and attract the most attention.
CBD works with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which Spurrill explained “is a form of communication,” since it has cannabinoid receptors throughout the entire body, many of which are in the nervous and immune systems. Research suggests that may be one reason many CBD oil users often report experiencing benefits for many types of conditions. (CB1 receptors are found mainly in the central nervous system and brain, while CB2 receptors are found in the rest of the body, including the immune and muscular systems.) Those who experience “runners’ high,” for example, are feeling the effects of the endocannabinoid system at work.
Tiptoeing into CBD Clinical Use
Though aware of CBD over a decade ago, Spurrill was reluctant to bring it into his functional medicine clinic.
“I was not for it in the beginning,” he admitted. “I had the same concerns as a lot of Christians. I did not want to be a part of anything that promoted [marijuana use]. But then I saw the science and research, so I switched gears.”
In the last four years, Spurrill, who sees patients from 48 states and 12 countries, has documented results with more than 100 patients taking hemp CBD oil, seeing the biggest effects in people with insomnia, pain, anxiety, and seizures. “We’ve not had one problem with it.”
But he cautions anyone looking into hemp CBD oil to make sure there’s no THC in it since there are formulas that mix CBD from hemp and marijuana. “You have to know what you’re working with, because there are people who just want the high and they’re rationalizing the science that’s come out on CBD. They’re trying to escape life. For Christians, we don’t need to.”
Some evidence even suggests hemp CBD oil can decrease addictive marijuana use and help pain patients addicted to opioids regain sobriety. To know if you’re using THC-free CBD oil, it’s a good idea to do your research and really get to know how your product is made. As an example, you can go through this review.
In one case, hemp CBD oil was “a game changer,” said Spurrill, who helped a suicidal patient whose multiple surgeries left him in chronic pain and addicted to prescription painkillers. “He got off the opiates and is alive and doing well today. It managed the pain. It ended up being a big tool for me to help him.”
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Source: Christianity Today