Updated on December 19, 2018. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
Huntington’s disease is a progressive genetic condition that is ultimately fatal. The disease advances over time through three stages from initial onset. During the first stage, people begin to exhibit slight physical and cognitive symptoms. It then progresses to the point where daily tasks become impossible, and the patient is entirely dependent on the care of others.
Dystonia is one of the physical symptoms associated with Huntington’s. Whether it’s mild or severe, dystonia is when muscles contract sharply. This involuntary symptom causes repetitive or twisting movement and can affect one or more parts of the body.
Because there’s no cure for Huntington’s, the best medical professionals can do for patients is prescribe meds that address the symptoms associated with the condition. Because of the progression of the disease, doctors often adjust these medications, which can create adverse side effects that exacerbate the disease.
Medical marijuana is approved by many states throughout the U.S. as a course of treatment for Huntington’s disease. It not only addresses the pain associated with the condition, but research is finding that it may help with some of the movement problems caused by the disease, such as dystonia.
There are three main categories of symptoms associated with Huntington’s disease:
Dystonia is one of the most severe movement symptoms associated with the disease. Although Huntington’s is an inherited genetic condition, medical professionals aren’t entirely sure what causes the dystonia associated with it. They think it develops because of problems in the basal ganglia, which is the portion of the brain that initiates muscle contractions. When nerves aren’t communicating properly between the brain and the muscles, this may be what causes the involuntary contractions.
Medications used to treat Huntington’s disease, including medical marijuana, can’t slow the progression of the disease. There’s no cure, and the decline in function will continue no matter what. That’s why the primary goal for any Huntington’s treatments is to help manage the symptoms associated with the condition.
Many of the most common medications used for Huntington’s have the potential to worsen symptoms or cause additional adverse side effects. Medical marijuana not only treats many of the symptoms arising from the condition, but it’s also safer than commonly prescribed treatments.
Huntington’s Disease may be closely tied to our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system has receptors that run throughout the body, which affects general functions like digestion, neurological, emotional and others. Cannabinoids in marijuana, like THC and cannabidiol (CBD), have positive effects on the ECS, which is why marijuana is used to treat many different conditions, like Huntington’s disease.
Cannabis has been shown to be a potential treatment for dystonia. The analgesic or pain relieving properties of medical marijuana reduce the pain associated with the symptom. However, cannabis may treat the muscle contractions associated with dystonia. In recent research studies, animals exhibiting dystonia-like symptoms were treated with synthetic THC. Their involuntary muscle movements significantly reduced, proving medical marijuana shows incredible promise as a Huntington’s medication.
Although more research is required, these findings should bring hope to many people struggling with dystonia caused by Huntington’s. If you have this condition, be sure to speak with a medical marijuana doctor about the potential of cannabis as a treatment course. Our advice should not replace the opinion of your physician. You can also visit a local dispensary to discuss options.
For more information about how cannabis can be used to treat Huntington’s Disease, check out our resources: