Cannabis and Neurodegenerative Disease 101

Neurodegenerative diseases affect many people around the world every year, but cannabis brings a revolutionary promise for treating and improving the quality of life of patients. According to Alzheimer’s Disease International statistics, someone develops every three seconds. In 2015, about 46.8 million people in the world have dementia. Researchers believe that the number of people with dementia will increase by 131.5 million in 2050.

Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s Disease are the most common examples of neurodegenerative diseases. These diseases involve progressive brain function deterioration that significantly decreases a patient’s quality of life. Many people are curious about what cannabis can do for patients suffering from these neurodegenerative diseases, and that’s what you’ll find out in this post. Let’s get started!

Cannabis and How It Affects Patients with Neurodegenerative Diseases

Medical marijuana offers promising therapeutic benefits because cannabinoids have natural anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective qualities. Researchers believe that medical marijuana could help prevent, halt, or reverse the signs and symptoms of debilitating neurodegenerative disorders. Cannabinoids have anti-oxidative actions, slowing the onset and even the progression of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative conditions.

Neurodegenerative Diseases Facts and Statistics

Neurodegenerative diseases refer to a variety of medical conditions affecting the nerve cells in the nervous system, particularly the brain or “neurons”. These are the building blocks of the brain and the spinal cord. According to the Harvard Neurodiscovery Center, over 12 million people in the United States will have neurodegenerative diseases 30 years from now if left unchecked.

Here are the facts about neurodegenerative diseases:

  • Genetic mutations, traumatic brain injury, and environmental factors, such as heavy metals and pesticides predispose a person to increased risk of neurodegenerative disease.
  • Age is a consistent risk factor when it comes to neurodegenerative disorder development, particularly for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • The signs and symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases can be severe. Also, neurodegenerative disease can even cause death due to breathing problems, memory impairment, weakness, paralysis, tight muscles or spasticity, exaggerated reflexes, and movement problems.
  • The most commonly diagnosed neurodegenerative disorders include Alzheimer’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple sclerosis (MS), Huntington’s disease, Spinal muscular atrophy, and Prion disease.
  • The leading cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease possibly 60% to 80% of cases.

Alzheimer’s Disease and Cannabis

According to the report of Alzheimer’s Society, some studies have shown that cannabis appears to remove amyloid or build-up of protein clumps from nerve cells among patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Cannabinoids are neuroreceptors and tend to react with amyloid based on the results of nerve cell activities as grown in the lab.

Here are the other good-to-know facts and findings of cannabis and its role in treating Alzheimer’s disease as reported by the Alzheimer’s Society:

  • Cannabinoids, particularly THC and CBD, play a crucial role in improved learning and less build-up of amyloid clumps among mice with signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Early evidence also suggests that cannabidiol or CBD oil may decrease inflammation in the brain, and further research is being done to better understand the role of CBD in brain functioning. When it comes to treating dementia symptoms, research suggests that high CBD oil concentrations could be useful in dementia signs and symptom management, like anxiety and agitation.
  • Some clinical trials have evaluated the effects of cannabinoids (including synthetic cannabinoids, like nabilone) on the behavioral symptoms of dementia. Researchers have used high CBD oil concentrations in these short term studies.
  • King’s College London is currently looking if a mouth cannabinoid-spray could be used to decrease the symptoms of aggression and agitation in a small group of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

While studies and research about cannabis and its role in treating Alzheimer’s disease are short-term, the results are positively heading good results. Further studies should be taken to prove the long-term effects of cannabis among people with Alzheimer’s. Can cannabis really help patients with Alzheimer’s disease, watch this video to learn more.

Parkinson’s Disease and Cannabis

According to MD Edge and Clinical Neurology News, studies, patient surveys, and anecdotal reports have suggested that medical marijuana may help treat the non-motor and motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Two studies were presented at the renowned 21st International Congress of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders. The studies have explored the possibility of inhaled cannabis and using oral cannabidiol (CBD) in the treatment of patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Maureen A. Leehey, a professor in the University of Colorado, and her colleagues of the Neurology and Chief of the Movement Disorders Division conducted a study about the role of CBD among patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The phase II, dose-escalation, the open-label study evaluates the tolerability and safety of CBD drug, Epidiolex, among patients with Parkinson’s disease. They also looked at different secondary efficacy measures, such as cognition, anxiety, change in tremor, psychosis, sleep, mood, fatigue, daytime sleepiness, and pain.

Here are the other good-to-know facts and findings of this study, exploring cannabis and its role in treating Parkinson’s disease as reported by Clinical Neurology News through MD Edge: 

  • There were 13 patients who experienced a resting tremor (amplitude score: 2) on item 3.17 of the most commonly used assessment tool for Parkinson’s disease, the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale or UPDRS. Those who have consumed cannabinoids in the last 30 days or had alcohol or drug dependence history were excluded in this study.
  • The patients have received 5, 7.5, 10, 15, and 20 mg/kg/day CBD doses and received the highest dose on 17th to 31st days.
  • After the treatment period, patients performed clinic visits and one of the 13 enrolled patients failed the screening visit. Also, one patient didn’t start the CBD study drug, and another was on the study drug only for two days. Seven of those 10 who were included and remained in the analysis of adverse events showed a decrease in the mean total UPDRS score from 45.9 to 36.4 during the final visit. The UPDRS motor score dramatically declined from 27.3 to 20.3. On the other hand, the mean rigidity subscore also declined from 9.14 to 6.29.
  • CBD treatment reduced irritability and pain. Preliminary results show that CBD is safe, mild, and well-tolerated with beneficial effects among patients with Parkinson’s disease. The investigators are planning to conduct a crossover, randomized controlled, and double-blind trial with 50 subjects.

Video Source: CBS Denver

Another study has evaluated the role of inhaled cannabis among patients who have Parkinson’s disease. An associate clinical investigator, Laurie K. Mischley of Bastyr University Research Institute in Washington, together with her colleagues studies the effect of inhaled marijuana on Parkinson’s disease tremor with the use of motion sensors. Qualitative interviews were done to evaluate the effects of inhaled cannabis on the participants.

Here are the good-to-know facts and findings of the study:

  • The study included 10 patients with Parkinson’s disease in Washington. These patients inhaled cannabis and wore a movement monitor. The study ran for two weeks and patients logged their marijuana use in a journal.
  • The tremor sensors recorded the amplitude and frequency of motor tremors during waking hours. The participants were asked to press a button on the motion sensor when they used cannabis. The tremor magnitude and duration were compared one hour before and after inhaling cannabis. After two weeks, the participants were asked non-leading, open-ended questions about their experience and perception of the effects of marijuana on their symptoms.
  • Among the 10 participants with a mean age of 60, 4 of them had more than ten cannabis exposures with 2% measurable tremor an hour before marijuana use and tremor significantly decreased an hour after use.
  • According to sensor data, tremor reduction has been sustained for about three hours after inhaled cannabis exposure.
  • About 60% of the participants reported improved sleep and patients perceive marijuana to have therapeutic potential in the symptom management of Parkinson’s disease.

Multiple Sclerosis and Cannabis

Multiple sclerosis or MS is a neurodegenerative condition affecting the nerves, particularly on the nerve cells in the central nervous system or CNS. Currently, there’s no cure for MS, but treatment can help slow down its progression. Cannabis can be useful in the treatment of several symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis is a lifelong, debilitating, and serious condition, causing a wide range of symptoms. According to the report of Medical News Today, about 1 million adults in the United States have multiple sclerosis. This statistics is based on the report of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The immune system of people with MS is overactive, causing damage to the brain cells, as well as the cells of the optic nerves and spinal cord up to the central nervous system. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is supporting the use of medical cannabis for people with MS where it is lawful.

Here are the good-to-know facts about the role of cannabis in treating MS as cited by Medical News Today:

  • Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC has psychoactive properties causing the “high” and cannabidiol or CBD doesn’t have psychoactive effects. THC can help patients with MS by increasing appetite, reducing nausea, and improving muscle control issues. CBD can be useful in treating psychological health conditions and controlling epileptic seizures. These cannabinoids can reduce inflammation and pain in the body.
  • According to the researchers of the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, those patients who were given an oral extract of cannabis experienced muscle stiffness relief.
  • Cannabis extract was found effective for treating spasticity in patients with MS in a large study of 572 patients with MS in 2011.
  • A systematic review showed strong evidence supporting the use of cannabis-based treatments for multiple sclerosis-related muscle problems in 2014.
  • Cannabis can help MS patients in pain management based on the 2012 clinical trial involving the effects of smoking cannabis on the signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
  • Cannabis can help MS patients with bladder problems based on a systematic review in 2014.

While cannabis may not be useful in treating other MS symptoms, including cognitive symptoms and reducing tremors, cannabis is effective in treating muscle stiffness and spasticity, and further studies can be conducted to know the long-term effects of THC among patients with MS.

Video Source: Inicijativa za legalizaciju marihuane u Srbiji

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS and Cannabis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS is a rare neurological disease involving the neurons or nerve cells which are responsible for voluntary muscle movement control. People who have ALS may die because of malnutrition, pulmonary embolism (lung arterial blockage),  swallowing problems, pneumonia (due to food or fluid aspiration), and cardiac arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythm.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which is a fatal disease of the motor neuron. It affects about 30,000 people in the United States. This neurodegenerative disease leads to decreased voluntary muscle movement, affecting a person’s ability to speak, chew, and walk. The nerves die and they stop sending nerve signals to the muscles, causing gradual weakening, muscle twitching, and muscle wasting. It significantly affects the quality of life of patients, including work, social relations, and even simple routine activities.

Here are the early signs and symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis:

  • Difficulty walking
  • Weakness in the legs, feet or ankles
  • Difficulty doing routine daily activities.
  • Tripping
  • Falling
  • Clumsiness or hand weakness
  • Slurred speech
  • Dysphagia or trouble swallowing
  • Muscle twitching and cramps in your tongue, arms, and shoulders

After diagnosis, the majority of all people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis live for more than 3 years. Once ALS begins, it always progresses, which eventually take away a person’s ability to walk, speak, swallow, dress, write, and breathe, thus shortening a person’s life span.

Nerve damage is caused by excitotoxicity and oxidative stress among patients with ALS. Marijuana shows a good promise in managing some of the ALS nerve damage. Oxidative stress usually occurs when there’s an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals within the body. When antioxidant production cannot keep up with free radical production, the body cannot detoxify the harmful effects of free radicals in the body.

Here are some good-to-know facts and studies about the role of cannabis in ALS:

  • A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study is now being conducted to rule out the effects of marijuana-based medicine extract, called CannTrust CBD Oil, in ALS patients. Participants were randomized in a 1:1 ratio, receiving placebo or CannTrust CBD Oil both in capsules in a treatment duration of 6 months. One-month follow up is conducted to ensure safety. The participants are checked via telephone or face to face and assessed for pain and spasticity score, quality of life, ALSFRS-R, and Forced Vital Capacity. There are a total of participants in this clinical trial, which aims to study cannabis as a possible ALS treatment. The actual study started on January 9, 2019, and the estimated completion date is January 2021.
  • Marijuana has antioxidant properties which help decrease damage in the nerve tissue that causes free radicals. Excitotoxicity refers to the destruction of compromised nerve tissue. When there is nerve tissue injury, glutamate (an amino acid) is released in uncontrolled and excessive amounts, leading to cellular death. Both CBD and THC can decrease glutamate release, thus sparing the nerve cells from excitotoxicity and cellular death.

Recommended Cannabis Strains for Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment

  • Purple Kush

Purple Kush is a cannabis indica hybrid strain with dense buds and purple leaves. It is potent so it delivers high THC levels (around 17%). Purple Kush is usually used before bedtime because it induces a long-lasting calming effect and promoting body relaxation. The medicinal benefits of this cannabis strain could possibly be used in treating a variety of medical conditions such as depression and insomnia. Also, it may also help to reduce mood swings and relieve frustrations related to Alzheimer’s.

  • OG Kush

This is a hybrid cannabis strain. OG Kush is a powerhouse. It helps relieve symptoms related to  Alzheimer’s Disease. It contains up to around 26% THC and 0-0.3% CBD. It’s thought to originate from the most-sought Hindu Kush and Chemdawg. OG Kush can help in treating migraines, ADHD/ADD, and stress and highly recommended to patients depending on Alzheimer’s who are on the level of disease progression.

  • Sour Diesel

As a sativa-dominant strain, Sour Diesel delivers a fast, relieving, and energizing impact that is used for relieving pain, stress, depression, and mood swings among people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

  • Green Crack

It is a sativa-dominant cannabis hybrid which is an ultimate happy strain. It is filled with 25% THC, making you feel better when you start consuming it. Green Crack has a combination of fruity, citrus, and tropical flavor. It helps boost you with happy energy, making it great for a rough day. It stimulates appetite too.

  • Acapulco Gold

It is a sativa-dominant hybrid which is a well-known cannabis strain in the world. It helps treat various medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s. This cannabis strain comes from Acapulco, Mexico with orange hairs resembling a gold nugget with brown, green, and gold colors of resin that are collecting on the buds. It is known as one of the best medical marijuana strains. It is difficult to find because of its unique growing conditions.

Recommended Cannabis Strains for Multiple Sclerosis Treatment

  • Nebula II CBD

Nebula II CBD is not high in CBD like the Tower, but a recommended strain for MS. It has a higher THC level recommended for the management of pain that stems from MS. Nebula II CBD has a good balance of THC and CBD. More THC means diminished ability to normally function with the best psychoactive effect.

  • Tower Cannatonic

Tower Cannatonic is a low THC and high CBD hybrid strain. It’s not likely to induce pleasurable psychoactive effects. However, the high CBD level is good for muscle spasm reduction and promotes relaxation.

  • CBD Shark

CBD Shark is considered a mid-level THC cannabis strain that contains a high CBD amount of CBD and is a good strain for relief from both pain and muscle spasms. It’s a hybrid cannabis strain with an even balance of CBD and THC.

  • Jacky White

Jacky White has a medium to high THC level with trace CBD content. It’s recommended for patients who are seeking pain relief from muscle spasms. It produces psychoactive effects because of its high THC content.

  • Harmony

This marijuana strain has the highest THC percentage on the list. The CBD level of Harmony is one of the lowest in the list. That is why it best suited for those who are looking for pain relief. Harmony is a powerful strain, so you should exercise caution with dosing until you’re able to gauge the effects of THC in your body. If you’re interested in marijuana as a treatment option for MS and you reside in a legal jurisdiction, you can talk to a cannabis physician to determine if cannabis may be right for you.

Recommended Cannabis Strains for ALS

  • Cannabis Indica Strains

The best cannabis indica strains for ALS include Pineapple Kush, Northern Lights, Grape Ape, Granddaddy Purple, and Bubba Kush. Cannabis indica is a better option if the ALS symptoms include pain and insomnia.

  • Cannabis Sativa Strains

The best cannabis sativa strains for ALS are Sour Diesel, Purple Haze, Strawberry Cough, Lemon Haze, Kali Mist, Maui Wowie, and Charlotte’s Web. Cannabis sativa strains are suitable for treating anxiety, pain, low energy, and depression.

  • Cannabis Hybrid Strains

The best cannabis hybrid strains for ALS include Mango Kush, Sour OG, Pineapple Express, Lemon Skunk, ACDC, and OG Kush. Hybrid are created by crossbreeding sativa and indica strains which feature the characteristics of both cannabis species.

Conclusion

Indeed, cannabis can be a possible treatment in neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and ALS. While the extent of symptom relief is not yet fully studied, the results of patient surveys, studies, and anecdotal evidence show positive results. Cannabis can help improve the quality of life and well-being of people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.

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