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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease is a rapidly degenerative neuromuscular disease. It affects the nervous system by slowly destroying the motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord that affect and control the movement of the body.
ALS patients gradually lose the ability to walk, talk, speak, and even suffer respiratory failure. For a person diagnosed with ALS, it can feel overwhelming. However, there are many treatment options available that ease the symptoms or improve function.
Conventional ALS treatments include physical, occupational, and speech therapies along with more aggressive and invasive approaches that can include medication, feeding tubes and breathing devices.
There are three types of ALS: familial, sporadic and Guamanian. Familial is inherited genetically and is the least common form, occurring in only about 5-10% of cases. Researchers are still uncertain as to what causes sporadic and Guamanian ALS.
Many people remain unaware of the significant benefits that medical cannabis has in treating ALS. For example, a 2005 study by the Department of Neurology at University of Washington, Seattle found that cannabinol (CBN), a non-psychotropic cannabinoid found in marijuana, delays the onset of symptoms of ALS.
Research recently conducted by the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco shows that select marijuana compounds, including THC, significantly slow the disease process and could extend life by three years or more. This same research group found that THC can also alleviate some ALS symptoms, like muscle spasms, in patients.
Cannabinoids, the bioactive compounds of Cannabis sativa, exert their activity by binding to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The cannabinoid system seems to be involved in the pathology of ALS. Indeed, the spinal cord of ALS patients has been shown to present motor neuron damage triggered by immune system’s cells (microglia and macrophages) that express increased levels of the CB2 cannabinoid receptor.
Previous studies have shown that cannabinoids have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective actions in animal models of ALS. Indeed, cannabinoids can delay disease progression and prolong survival in these animals. However, only a few studies have investigated the effect of cannabinoids in human patients, which makes it difficult to interpret the results.
“According to a single observational study of patients with ALS, only the 10 percent who admitted consuming cannabis revealed moderate relief of several symptoms, including appetite loss, depression, pain and drooling. In addition, spasticity is also a major problem for ALS patients, which reported that cannabis can subjectively improve spasticity.”
Getting diagnosed with ALS can be overwhelming but the good news is there are natural ALS treatments such as medical cannabis that can help slow degeneration and improve symptoms.