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What do we mean by alternative and complementary therapies?

Alternative therapies include such techniques as mindfulness meditation, chiropractic, massage therapy, relaxation, guided imagery, biofeedback, aromatherapy, yoga, therapeutic touch, homeopathy, diet, etc. These non-medical treatments focus on the integration of the body, mind and spirit. They are sometimes referred to as the holistic model.

Most people with epilepsy need to take anti-epileptic medication to control their seizures. Therefore, the non-medical therapies are more often “complementary” to their regular medical treatment, and not truly “alternative”. People wishing to try a complementary therapy should not stop taking their medications and speak with their doctor about including a complementary therapy in their treatment plan.

How effective are alternative or complementary approaches to epilepsy?

Many alternative therapies do not have scientific research to prove their effectiveness. Because of this, they are not usually included in standard medical treatment. However, many people who have tried complementary treatments have felt that they helped their epilepsy and improved their quality of life.

Certainly, reducing stress can reduce seizures in some people. Therapies that include stress-reduction techniques can help them gain better control of their seizures. Also, greater personal involvement in epilepsy management through these therapies can be positive in itself.


Media reports about the effect of medical marijuana on seizure control have increased public interest in its ability to treat uncontrollable seizures. Based on animal studies and anecdotal media stories, cannabidiol, a purified extract of the marijuana plant, seems to hold promise as a potential treatment. Until recently, there has been scant research to prove the effectiveness and long term safety of marijuana extracts for seizures.

In the United States, researchers of a multi-center study have released results of this first randomized large-scale study of the effectiveness of cannabidiol oil. Patients with a severe form of epilepsy had a 39% reduction in the number of seizures. This study is the first step in determining if the effect of cannabidiol on seizure control is more than anecdotal and if it can safely be used by children.

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