Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. It affects 6,000 Americans each year, targeting and damaging the nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord. While there is no cure for this disease, medical marijuana for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has helped slow its progression for patients. Learn more about ALS and how medical weed can make a difference below.

ALS Video Transcript:

All voluntary movement in the body is controlled by the brain. Nerve cells in the brain, called upper motor neurons, initiate movement through the release of chemical signals called neurotransmitters. The signal is passed from the upper motor neurons to the lower motor neurons of the spine. Nerve fibers extending from the spine, called axons, extend into the muscles. The point where the axons and muscle fibers connect is called the neuromuscular junction. When the signal reaches the neuromuscular junction, it causes the muscle to contract, resulting in voluntary muscle movement. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, often called Lou Gehrig’s disease is a degenerative disease of both the upper and lower motor neurons. As more and more motor neurons become infected, they are unable to send signals or movement to the muscles. Loss of voluntary muscle movement and coordination develop. Over time, muscle weakness and spasticity develop. Patients are unable to perform routine activities, such as walking and getting out of a chair. Eventually paralysis develops, interfering with the ability to swallow, talk and breathe. Unfortunately, there is no cure for ALS. Death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis usually occurs within three to five years from diagnosis. Learn more below about how medical marijuana can help treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Research on Medical Cannabis for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Studies indicate that medical marijuana for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis could relieve ALS symptoms. Since marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug under federal law, it’s difficult for doctors to research its healing properties.

A review from the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care, however, compiled preclinical research covering medical cannabis’ effects on ALS symptoms.

Tests conducted on lab mice suggest that marijuana can reduce inflammation, protect your brain and serve as an antioxidant. These results also bring up the possibility of marijuana helping patients manage other ALS symptoms, like appetite and sleep problems.

The same review also compiled data showing cannabis’ potential to serve a similar purpose as pharmaceuticals in development and on the market. Many prescription drugs aim to improve cell function and brain transmissions to protect the spinal cord. Medical weed could provide the same service, without the harmful side effects of prescription drugs.

thc for als

Research conducted by the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco also shows that marijuana compounds, like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) slow the progression of ALS and could extend a patient’s life by three years or more. This same research group found that THC can also relieve other ALS symptoms like muscle spasms.

Another discovery by this California research team was that another component of marijuana, cannabidiol (CBD), can enhance THC benefits. Although CBD made no difference by itself, the combination of THC and CBD had even more potential in delaying ALS’ progression.

Research on medical cannabis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is promising. As the stigma behind medical marijuana decreases and prohibition lessens, researchers will have the resources to conduct more studies.

Medical Cannabis for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Medical marijuana can improve an ALS patient’s quality of life. Many of the symptoms that ALS patients experience, like muscle spasticity, are approved for medical weed treatment.

The muscle stiffness or spasticity caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis interferes with your daily life, such as by making walking difficult. Some studies indicate that medical cannabis can help with muscle spasticity and make it easier to live your life.

One of the symptoms associated with ALS, chronic pain, can make living with the disorder challenging. Painkillers might work, but they can hurt your liver and have addictive properties. Medical cannabis enhances the cannabinoids in your body that relieve pain.

ALS patients can also experience a reduced appetite. Many folks joke about medical marijuana causing “the munchies,” but it can give patients the desire to eat. In fact, when combined with cognitive behavior therapy, cannabis can help people with eating disorders have a healthier outlook on food.

A symptom of ALS that you might not consider is its emotional effect. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can cause emotional outbursts and those who don’t have them still deal with the mental toll that a terminal illness like ALS puts on someone. For patients dealing with mood problems, especially anxiety and depression, medical weed can provide relief.

Medical Marijuana Strains for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Like crops and other plants, medical marijuana comes in varieties known as strains. Each strain has unique qualities and benefits that affect every patient differently. Sometimes, you need to try multiple strains before you find the best one for you.

Medical cannabis strains come in three types — Indica, sativa and hybrid. Indica strains tend to have a relaxing, mellowing effect and are perfect for nighttime use. Sativa strains have an energizing effect and are best for daytime use. Hybrid strains are crossbred and can take on qualities of Indica and sativa.

best strains for als

Marijuana strains that help with muscle problems like spasticity and pain include:

  • Arctic Blue: Cultivators breed DJ Short’s Blueberry strain with another blueberry Indica strain to create this 60 percent Indica hybrid. While it relieves pain and anxiety, it makes you less sleepy than a pure Indica strain.
  • Super Sour OG: Super Sour OG, a hybrid strain, consists of 50 percent Indica and 50 percent sativa, combining the best qualities of both. It relaxes and uplifts you.
  • Blue Wreck: Blue Wreck is a hybrid strain that’s sativa-dominant and makes you feel clear-headed and euphoric.

Other strains can help with fatigue. Some examples are:

  • Blue Dream: This hybrid strain is primarily sativa and energizes you without making you jittery.
  • Sour Diesel: Many patients love this sativa strain for its ability to ease pain, stress and depression while invigorating you.
  • Green Crack: This sativa strain revitalizes patients with low anxiety who need an extra boost.

Some ALS patients experience digestive troubles. There are strains for that, too, like:

  • Purple Kush: In addition to upset stomach relief, this Indica strain provides relaxation and euphoria.
  • God’s Gift: With about a 20 percent THC content rate, this Indica strain can relieve your ALS digestive symptoms.
  • Chocolope: This sativa strain promotes euphoria so that it can help your mood problems as well as your stomach discomfort.

Having a terminal illness takes its mental toll. These strains soothe depression and anxiety:

  • Girl Scout Cookies: As the name suggests, Girl Scout Cookies has a sweet flavor. The hybrid strain makes you feel happy and relaxed but can interfere with your focus.
  • Granddaddy Purple: This Indica strain can relax you and uplift your mood at the same time. Patients dealing with both anxiety and depression benefit from it.
  • Lemon Haze: As a sativa strain, Lemon Haze mostly energizes you, but it has some relaxing effects as well.

If you need help choosing the right strain, consult with a budtender at your local dispensary. They have the experience and training to answer all your medical cannabis questions!

Medical Marijuana Treatment Methods for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

When most people think of medical marijuana, they imagine someone smoking it. But there’s more than meets the eye! You can consume medical cannabis for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in many ways, and some of them will work better for you.

ALS manifests differently for every patient. So, we can’t say that one method is the best. However, we can discuss what methods work depending on your symptoms, health profile and personal preferences:

  • Smoking or vaping: Inhaling cannabis lets you feel its effects fast. But, vaping improperly or smoking creates tar that damages your lungs. Like smoking tobacco, smoking medical weed has health risks. If you want to vape, we recommend using a vape apparatus that doesn’t char your medical marijuana. Patients who experience the respiratory symptoms of ALS should take extreme caution when using these methods.
  • Edibles: The second most well-known method for consuming medical marijuana is eating an edible, which makes the cannabis kick in later with a longer effect. You might think of pot brownies as the only consumable medical weed product, but the industry offers various treats for every taste.
  • Topicals: If you have localized aches and pains, a topical treatment could be ideal for you. Medical cannabis-infused lotions and balms act like typical pain-relieving topicals to soothe your muscles. Marijuana patches also let you absorb the cannabis right into your bloodstream for a potent effect.

The only people who can decide the best medical marijuana treatment for you are your doctor, budtender and, most importantly, yourself! Everyone has a unique body that reacts differently to medical weed, so your best bet is to experiment with supervision from the experts.

Side Effects of Medical Marijuana Use

Despite its numerous benefits, medical cannabis isn’t free from unwanted side effects. Here are the most common ones and how to manage them:

  • Hunger: Hunger is a classic side effect of cannabis consumption. Keep some healthy food on hand to eat when you get a hankering!
  • Red eyes: If you worry about people judging you for using medical marijuana, you might not want to have the red eyes associated with it. Any over the counter eye drops will make the redness go away.
  • Respiratory issues: The tar from medical cannabis smoke damages your lungs. Use another method, like edibles, to prevent this damage.
  • Drowsiness: Some patients already feel tired from their ALS, so they would consider this a major drawback. Try taking your medicine before you go to bed instead of during the day.
  • Dry mouth or thirst: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can cause excess saliva. Some patients will welcome this effect, but if you don’t want dry mouth, drink plenty of fluids and chew xylitol gum.
  • Short-Term memory loss: Marijuana can cause forgetfulness. Take your medicine before bed, so you don’t deal with it during the day or practice good memory habits like writing things down.
  • Insomnia: Everyone needs a good night’s rest, especially folks with a disease like ALS. Talk to your doctor about switching up your treatment so that it energizes you during the right time of day. Using a strain that makes you drowsy can also help you avoid insomnia.
  • Giddiness: We love it when a patient is happy, but feeling too giddy can interfere with your daily functioning. Take your medicine at a time that doesn’t make it interfere with getting stuff done.
  • Uneasiness or anxiety: For some people, medical weed causes paranoia and anxiousness. Ask your doctor or budtender about trying a different strain.

It’s rare that patients experience each of these side effects. The most common effects patients experience are hunger, red eyes and dry mouth. Changing your strain or using one that offsets these side effects can make your medical weed usage that much easier.

How Can Help

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with ALS, medical marijuana can help. We provide a comprehensive database of weed-friendly doctors happy to help you find the best natural cure. We also have a list of dispensaries where you can get the medicine you need. Start your search today so that you can begin relieving your daily ALS symptoms.

Information on Medical Marijuana & ALS

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What is Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis?

As a neurodegenerative disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis kills nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Because ALS interferes with the brain’s control over muscles, the condition hinders all types of movement, including speech, swallowing and breathing. Patients in the later stages of the disease may become paralyzed, and 100 percent of ALS cases result in death.

als mortality rate

Three types of ALS exist:

  • Sporadic: The most common form of this degenerative disease is sporadic ALS, which affects 90 to 95 percent of ALS patients. Sporadic means that there are no known genetic causes, underlying conditions or risk factors.
  • Familial: Between 5 and 10 percent of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients have familial ALS, which means that they inherited it from a relative. When someone with ALS has a child, there’s a 50 percent chance that their son or daughter will also develop the disease.
  • Guamanian: In the 1950s, Guam residents experienced a high rate of ALS diagnoses. Research suggests that this happened because of a substance produced by cyanobacteria. Since this phenomenon has been resolved, patients are no longer diagnosed with it.

While the type of ALS doesn’t affect your treatment plan, it does provide doctors an understanding of why the disorder developed, such as due to family history.

Facts About Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

ALS isn’t a recent discovery in the health community. In fact, it was identified more than 100 years ago. Some facts on its extensive history include the following:

  • “Amyotrophic” is a Greek word that means “no muscle nourishment.” “Lateral” refers to the parts of the spinal cord affected by ALS, while “sclerosis” indicates spinal cord scarring.
  • The other name for ALS, “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” comes from major league baseball player Lou Gehrig. He played for the Yankees in the 1930s and later retired due to the condition’s progression.
  • Jean-Martin Charcot, a French neurologist, discovered ALS in 1869. We’ve been looking for a cure for almost a century and a half!
  • One of the most notable ALS patients is Stephen Hawking. He was diagnosed at 21 and has lived with the disease for more than 50 years while making monumental discoveries in science.
  • ALS usually begins between the ages of 40 and 70 years old, but sometimes affects younger patients.
  • Veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS. We don’t know why though.

veterans and als

As research for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis continues and we develop a greater understanding of why it develops, a new, eventual fact could be the discovery of an ALS cure.

Symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Physicians may not know why ALS occurs, but they do know why it causes the symptoms that it does — brain and nerve cells are being destroyed. Symptoms of ALS are mild and gradual and include:

  • Unsteadiness
  • Problems doing daily tasks
  • Weakness in your extremities
  • Stooped posture and trouble lifting your head
  • Uncontrolled emotional outbursts
  • Cognitive changes
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic pain
  • Speech difficulties
  • Problems with your saliva and mucus
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing

Not everyone experiences the same ALS symptoms, and the symptoms progress differently depending on the person. But, every patient deals with paralysis and weakened muscles.

Treatments for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

A cure doesn’t exist for ALS, and medicine can’t undo its effects.

According to the ALS Association, folks dealing with ALS survive for three to five years. Only one well-established drug, riluzole, is available for ALS and can extend that time by about two months. However, research suggests that medical cannabis can reduce some amyotrophic lateral sclerosis symptoms, slow the disease’s progress and extend an ALS patient’s life.

Medicine helps with ALS, but therapy can improve your functions and assist with managing your symptoms. Natural treatments used for ALS include cognitive behavioral therapy, speech therapy, breathing therapy, nutritional support, physical therapy and occupational therapy.

For more than 22 years, ALS treatments relied on the medicine riluzole, but with the introduction of a new drug, radicava, in 2017 there are now two prescriptions for ALS available. Let’s take a closer look at them:

  • Riluzole: This medication blocks some glutamate transmissions. Glutamate is an amino acid that transmits messages from the brain to the body. Too much glutamate causes some of the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

While riluzole can protect your brain cells and prevent convulsions, it also has a sedative effect. Other side effects include fatigue, nausea, muscle weakness, digestive issues, appetite loss and headaches. Get in touch with your doctor or go to the emergency room if you experience breathing problems, depression or fever.

  • Radicava: This medicine is administered using an IV to help remove free radicals in your body. Free radicals are toxic atoms or molecules produced by your cells. Having a normal amount helps your body get rid of pathogens, but researchers theorize that ALS causes too many to stay in your system and damage your neurons.

Radicava can cause excess bruising, rashes, headaches and problems walking. You should get in touch with a medical professional or head to the hospital immediately if you experience respiratory problems.

Although scientists are making gradual steps toward curing ALS, they have developed some medicines that make it easier to deal with. However, since there are only two medicines out there, you don’t have many choices. But, what if there was a more natural option?