Epilepsy is a group of disorders of the central nervous system, characterized by loss of consciousness and epileptic seizures. Seizures occur episodically, and can vary from very brief (1-2 seconds long) to continual periods of vigorous shaking. Epilepsy is defined by seizures that are strictly convulsive and have no immediate underlying cause. Seizures that happen due to a known cause are not considered epileptic.
Most cases of epilepsy cannot be directly linked to a certain cause; although it has been documented that epilepsy may be developed from brain injury, brain tumor, stroke or alcohol abuse. Genetic inheritance is also considered a disease factor. As for the cause of seizures, they are the result of excessive cortical nerve cell activity in the brain. The diagnosis for epilepsy usually comes after ruling out other conditions that might cause similar type of seizures – sometimes they can be present due to alcohol withdrawal syndrome or electrolyte problems. Epilepsy can sometimes be confirmed with an electroencephalogram (EEG) but a normal test does not rule out the condition.
With medications traditionally used to treat epilepsy, seizures are controllable in about 70% of cases. This leaves another 30% of epileptic patients without relief. Moreover, traditional epileptic medications may include such side effects as weight gain, sedation, sleep disturbances, slurring of speech, hyperactivity, unsteadiness, irritability, double vision, gum dysplasia and random mood changes.
Some patients suffering from epilepsy and similar disorders that involve seizures have found relief in medical marijuana, either taken as sole treatment, or in conjunction with other medications. Not all patients are able to tolerate classic anticonvulsants, let alone the side effects described above. Studies show that medical marijuana users diagnosed with epilepsy reduce frequency of their seizures by 30-40%. Certainly, this does not mean they go away completely, but controlling seizures helps a great deal if you live with epilepsy. As for the side effects of medical marijuana, they are mild and classified as "low risk", with the most prominent being euphoric mood change.