Dr. Brad Ingram presented a great program this week to the McComb Rotary Club, where he talked about his research that’s showing how an ingredient in marijuana is reducing the epileptic seizures of all 10 children in a test group.
I had more than a passing interest in the topic. Like Ingram himself, I was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 16.
I’m not sure I’ve written about this before. When the doctor told me in 1977 what was wrong, he said that a lot of people were uncomfortable around those who have epilepsy, and I didn’t need to tell people about it.
I pretty much followed that advice during the subsequent four decades. But in all honesty, my version of epilepsy is so mild, and so well controlled by one pill each night, that I don’t worry about it at all.
Epilepsy probably has many forms, but generally it means your brain is misfiring on some of its electronic signals.
My brain’s power surges started when I was 15. The seizures would hit without warning. I never lost consciousness like many epileptics do. It was always an unexpected twitch of my arms or legs.
One night, I awoke about 3 a.m. and bent my legs to elevate my knees as I went back to sleep. Suddenly, every few seconds my legs were splitting apart. I didn’t know what to do and for whatever reason kept it to myself.
I’d wake up to go to school and fall down several times in the shower because my knees kept buckling. One time I dropped a full glass of milk at the dinner table.
My mother was a nurse anesthetist and knew something was wrong, despite my protests to the contrary. So in August 1977 I had a brain scan, where they put a bunch of wires all over your head and chest. My mom and I got the diagnosis from the doctor about a week before my 16th birthday.
The physician was a nice guy named Dr. Earl Hackett. He put me on phenobarbital, which the Wikipedia website describes as the world’s oldest commonly-used seizure medication.
Today it is mostly used to treat young children, as there are plenty of newer medications available.
But Wikipedia also said phenobarb, as it’s called, is the least-expensive seizure medication in the developed world. Is that me or what? When it comes to my brain, I control seizures with the cheap stuff. But it works and I see no reason to try something new.
The worst thing about the teenage seizures was the timing. I was about to get my full driver’s license, but state law required me to wait a year. Couldn’t this have come along two years earlier, before I was driving?
Years later, I worried that the condition was hereditary. When my kids were in their teens, I watched them closely, looking for any signs of seizures. Thankfully, there were none.
An interesting thing occurred in the mid-1980s. Dr. Robert Wallace’s newspaper column for teenagers (which still runs today on the comics page) featured a letter from a girl who was upset that she had epilepsy.
I must have had more time on my hands then, because I wrote her a letter and told her that the condition is very manageable. A few days later, Dr. Wallace called me to thank me for writing. He asked if I would contact a girl in Maryland who had written him about the same subject.
She and I still stay in touch today. She sends a Christmas card, with pictures of her family, every year. Her epilepsy is a lot worse than mine, requiring brain surgery at least once. But she got through it and lives normally today.
The children in Ingram’s study are far worse off. At least two of the 10 are teenagers whose epilepsy is so bad they were never able to walk — until they started taking can-nabidiol, which comes from marijuana.
Ingram is not an advocate of legalizing marijuana for recreational use. He says that won’t do a thing to help his patients.
But he said this week that it’s crazy not to research marijuana’s ingredients for their medical potential. He believes CBD may be able to help patients with migraines or psychiatric conditions.
He is absolutely right. But I’m discussing my experience to make sure people know that medication can control most epilepsy cases. It may have been scary decades ago, but it definitely isn’t today.