Updated on December 10, 2018. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) has no cure, eventually progressing to paralyzation and death. While we search for a cure, it’s important to find ways to manage ALS symptoms and slow its progression. Delaying the onset of more severe ALS symptoms allows patients to live longer, happier lives.
As cannabis medicine becomes more widely used, we can conduct more research on its ability to help patients with incurable diseases like ALS. The data we’ve collected points to the possibility of using marijuana to slow the progression of ALS.
ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that damages the cells in your spinal cord and brain. It interferes with motor control, reducing the patient’s ability to eat, speak, breathe and move. The two primary types of ALS are sporadic (with no genetic cause) and familial (with genetic cause).
A French neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot, discovered amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 1869. Amyotrophic refers to no muscle nourishment, lateral denotes the spinal cord and sclerosis signifies the scarring caused by spinal cord damage. We sometimes call ALS Lou Gehrig’s disease in honor of the famous baseball player who dealt with it.
As ALS destroys more and more cells in your nervous system, its symptoms become more severe. ALS affects the part of your body that controls the rest of your bodily functions. So, it causes symptoms related to numerous parts of your body.
ALS symptoms include:
The symptoms that each patient deals with depends on the person. However, all ALS cases involve weakened muscles and paralysis.
Marijuana consists of components called cannabinoids. It has more than 85 cannabinoids that each have their own effects on the mind and body. Research on cannabis and ALS involves observation of the impact cannabinoids have on the disease.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the most well-known component of marijuana. It binds to the cannabinoid receptors in your brain to affect your mental functions. The euphoric feeling associated with marijuana use comes from THC.
Research suggests THC can impede the progress of ALS, extending a patient’s life by three years or more. While it doesn’t act as a total cure, it can give ALS patients more time to live. Other studies have found THC can relieve ALS symptoms like muscle spasms.
Besides THC, the other most well-known cannabinoid is cannabidiol, or CBD. It does not cause any psychoactive effects, so many patients use it to get pain relief without a high. CBD is growing in popularity as a medical treatment because of its numerous benefits and lack of mental impairment.
The same researchers considering THC’s impact on ALS also examined how CBD works for ALS progression. So far, it seems like CBD doesn’t interfere with ALS progression on its own. But, it does appear to improve the effects of THC, making it an excellent supplement to THC treatment.
In addition to reducing the neurodegeneration caused by ALS, marijuana relieves some of the symptoms associated with the condition. Most importantly, it reduces muscle spasticity and pain levels. It also improves appetite and alleviates the mental health issues caused by ALS’s emotional impact.
To provide our patients with comprehensive information about cannabis and ALS, we put together a condition guide addressing the subject. We can also help you find a doctor to advise you on your treatment plan, or a trustworthy dispensary staff to help you choose a strain.