According to the ALS Association, an estimated 30,000 Americans are living with ALS. A related study also found that veterans are more likely to suffer from the condition than the general public. Many studies have also focused on the benefits of CBD and THC, the active compounds of marijuana, on the treatment of ALS. Here is a brief overview of ALS and the effects of medical marijuana on this condition.
What is ALS?
ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. ALS is a neurodegenerative characterized by the destruction of a patient’s motor neurons. The motor neurons are cells responsible for transmitting signals from the brain to your muscles to facilitate movement. A person with ALS suffers from muscle weakness. The weakness starts in the arms and legs and later leads to the inability to chew, swallow, and breathe.
The main symptoms of ALS are difficulty walking, slurred speech, body cramps, paralysis, twitching, and trouble clearing saliva, which leads to drooling. In many cases, ALS patients retain their cognitive functions, but there are cases where patients develop frontotemporal lobar dementia and cognitive impairment. ALS has no cure, and many patients succumb to the disease within 3-5 years after being diagnosed.
Treatment for ALS
One of the drugs used to treat ALS is riluzole. The drug extends a patient’s time by two months. Riluzole blocks glutamate transmissions. Glutamate transmits signals from your brain to the body and is crucial for motor function. High levels of glutamate results in the common symptoms of ALS.
Another drug used for treating ALS is Radicava. Radicava is administered through intravenous delivery. Radicava treatment extracts free radicals from the patient’s body hence slowing down the effects of ALS.
Riluzole and Radicava treatments are associated with unpleasant side effects like fatigue and headaches. This is probably the reason many experts are vouching for medical marijuana, which has none of these side effects. The main side effects of medical marijuana are insomnia, drowsiness, and respiratory disease.
Research on Medical Marijuana and ALS
Cannabis is a neuroprotectant and an antioxidant. The neuroprotectant and antioxidant properties of cannabis help lower the progress of ALS by protecting the neurons that this disease attacks and destroys. On the other hand, the antioxidant elements of cannabis lower oxidative stress, which causes cell death.
The American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care conducted a study to determine the effects of medical cannabis on ALS symptoms. Researchers run tests on lab mice and found that marijuana reduces inflammation, serves as an antioxidant, and protects the brain. These results also show the probability of marijuana helping a patient manage ALS symptoms like sleep problems and appetite.
Another study found that marijuana compounds such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), can help slow down the progress of ALS and prolong a patient’s life by up to three years. A related study found that cannabidiol (CBD), another compound in marijuana, can boost the benefits of THC. The combined action of CBD and THC could delay ALS progression.
Dr. Gary T. Carter is one of the medical researchers who has performed extensive studies on the effect of medical weed on ALS. Dr. Carter gave a presentation at a 2014 clinical conference on cannabis stating that cannabis was custom for treating ALS. Dr. Carter has witnessed many patients benefit from using cannabis.
Effects of Medical Marijuana on ALS
Many symptoms associated with ALS like muscle stiffness can be relieved with the use of medical marijuana. Muscle stiffness affects a patient’s motor functions like walking or moving their arms. Another symptom that marijuana can relieve is chronic pain. While painkillers can offer temporary relief, they eventually harm your liver and can be addictive. Medical marijuana works by boosting the cannabinoids in the patient’s body that help in pain relief.
ALS also leads to a low appetite. When combined with cognitive behavior therapy, medical weed can help improve the mood of patients with eating disorders. For patients suffering from emotional outbursts and mood problems like depression, medical marijuana is an effective remedy.
How Can Medical Marijuana Be Administered In The Treatment of ALS
There are many ways that medical marijuana is administered during the treatment of ALS. The method used will depend on the patient’s symptoms, preferences, and health status. Smoking or inhaling cannabis is the most common and fastest way to experience the effects of the drug. However, smoking weed poses a health risk. The safest method is to use a vaping apparatus to prevent charring of the drug.
Another way of taking medical weed is by eating an edible. However, the effects of edible marijuana take time to manifest. Tinctures are like edible weed products, but they are used in feeding tubes. There are also topical treatments for pains and aches. Topical medical marijuana creams soothe your muscles and absorb the drug into your bloodstream.
Considering the components of medical marijuana and the debilitating symptoms associated with ALS, medical weed is a safe treatment option. Marijuana can be used as an additional treatment for ALS patients who are having trouble controlling their symptoms with conventional therapy. However, there is a need for more research on the effects of cannabinoid medicine in relation to ALS to help prevent progression and hopefully, even the onset of the disease.