How Medical Marijuana Helps Treat Ataxia
Ataxia is a movement disorder that affects multiple parts of the body. Patients with ataxia can experience difficulties in walking, talking, swallowing, and even eye movements. Additionally, ataxia can cause extreme pain and is often accompanied by depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
Medical marijuana doctors nationwide are recommending cannabis-based treatments for some of their patients suffering from ataxia symptoms.
In this post, we’ll go over some of the symptoms of ataxia and explain how compounds produced in marijuana help to relieve symptoms of ataxia. We’ll also discuss various options for treating ataxia with medical marijuana and other cannabis-infused medications.
What is ataxia?
Ataxia is not a disorder or disease but is rather a symptom of other underlying medical conditions or diseases. Ataxia can be caused by tumors, stroke, neurodegeneration , multiple sclerosis , substance abuse, cerebral palsy , head trauma , and autoimmune diseases. It can also be inherited or it can be the result of genetic mutation.
Spinocerebellar ataxia is the most common type of ataxia. This hereditary condition affects the cerebellum, a part of the brain responsible for balance and coordination. It can lead to symptoms such as spasticity , blurred vision, slurred speech, and tremors, especially in the hands.
Another type of ataxia called Friedreich’s ataxia results from the degeneration of the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. Friedreich’s ataxia is caused by a genetic mutation. Common symptoms of Friedreich’s ataxia include loss of coordination and speech problems.
How does medical marijuana help ataxia patients?
Although medical marijuana does not present a cure for ataxia, many patients find cannabis helps to relieve some of the symptoms such as spasticity , pain , insomnia , anxiety , and depression .
Spasticity is a common symptom of ataxia. In a study from 1982 half of participants suffering from muscle spasticity claimed that medical cannabis helped to reduce their spasticity. And in another study conducted in 1997, almost all the participants reported a decrease in both pain and muscle spasticity after using medical marijuana.
Also, several studies have suggested that cannabis is an effective treatment for depression and anxiety . A 2016 study published by Neuropharmacology claimed that a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis called cannabidiol (CBD) offers antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects, while tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the intoxicating compound in cannabis — is widely renowned for its ability to produce feelings of euphoria.
Both CBD and THC can also help patients suffering from insomnia caused by ataxia. Medical marijuana has also been proven to be effective in the treatment of pain caused by ataxia.
Additionally, medical marijuana offers powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and can act as a neuroprotectant to potentially slow the progression of ataxia in some patients.
How does medical marijuana help treat ataxia?
Medical marijuana contains active compounds called phytocannabinoids . These include THC and CBD as mentioned above as well as other minor cannabinoids such as cannabigerol ( CBG ) and cannabinol ( CBN ).
Phytocannabinoids produced in marijuana have the ability to mimic the effects of our own naturally produced cannabinoids known as endocannabinoids .
The entire system of cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors is known as the endocannabinoid system or ECS. The ECS is responsible for a wide array of bodily functions such as sleep cycles, appetite, moods, and immune response.
Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters produced by the brain in response to imbalances in health. Endocannabinoids enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body where they interact with receptors on the surface of cells. These interactions cause changes in behavior such as modulating inflammatory response, pain signaling, moods, and sleep cycles.
Supplementation with phytocannabinoids can help to increase the effectiveness of the endocannabinoid system in some patients, potentially relieving symptoms of ataxia.
Is medical marijuana safe for treating ataxia?
When used properly, medical marijuana has proven to be well-tolerated with a low risk of long-term side effects or addiction.
However, in higher dosages and when used frequently over long periods of time, cannabinoids can produce unwanted side effects such as intoxication and lethargy, as well as potential mental health disorders. Cannabis should only be used as directed by a knowledgeable medical marijuana doctor.
How is medical marijuana used to treat ataxia?
Patients suffering from the array of symptoms caused by ataxia have several options available for delivery including inhalation, oral applications, patches, and creams.
Inhalation of cannabinoids provides the fastest relief. Inhalation methods include smoking , vaporizing , dabbing , and inhalers . While these are great options for fast relief of pain, smoking, vaping, and dabbing are not recommended for patients with circulatory or lung conditions as these delivery methods can raise blood pressure and harm the lungs. A better option for these patients would be inhalers containing purified cannabinoids.
Cannabis medicine also comes in a wide array of oral applications including tinctures , capsules , lozenges , and edibles such as gummies . Oral use offers a slower onset time and lower bioavailability. However, these methods are much more convenient, offer accurate dosing, and can be more effective for some patients.
Cannabis-infused transdermal patches also offer systemic effects as the cannabinoids are released through the skin into the bloodstream over time. Cannabis suppositories offer similar benefits.
Cannabis-infused topical creams can be applied to various parts of the body to relieve local pain and spasticity.
Dosage and frequency of use can vary widely from patient to patient. Some patients only need to use medical marijuana when they are experiencing symptoms such as pain, spasticity, or sleeplessness. Others find that periodic daily use is more helpful for their condition. Dosage and delivery methods should be determined under the guidance of a knowledgeable medical marijuana doctor.
Cannabis products can be made using purified cannabinoids such as THC or CBD or even a mixture of various cannabinoids. Cannabis oils can also be produced using whole-plant extracts which offer another class of active compounds called terpenes . Terpenes are the essential oils that give various marijuana strains their distinctive aromas.
Terpenes have been used for centuries in a healing modality known as aromatherapy. Cannabis produces scores of terpenes. Each offers different effects such as pain and spasticity reduction, mood improvement, and relaxation. The combined effect of the cannabinoids and terpenes is commonly referred to as the entourage effect .
Finding a cannabis strain or formula that offers the most relief can take some experimentation. Many patients choose to keep more than one strain or formula on hand for different activities and times of the day. For example, a product high in CBD for daytime use and another high in THC for use at bedtime.
Cannabis for Ataxia Patients
Medical Marijuana For Ataxia Patients Helps Many Symptoms
Cannabis for Ataxia
Ataxia is usually a sign of an underlying condition. It affects different movements throughout the body, such as speech difficulties, swallowing, walking, and eye movement.
It’s estimated that around 150,000 individuals in the United States are affected by ataxia. Several conditions may cause ataxia, such as alcohol and substance abuse, tumors, stroke, brain degeneration, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, certain medications, autoimmune diseases, head trauma, and inherited genes. The treatment for ataxia will depend on the cause. Conventional treatments include canes or walkers which may help patients achieve independence; other kinds of treatments include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and aerobic exercise.
How can cannabis help?
Spinocerebellar ataxia (Autosomal dominant ataxias)
Spinocerebellar ataxia is a hereditary disease and is also the most common hereditary cause of progressive neurodegenerative disease. In some cases, if the condition isn’t treated early on, spinocerebellar ataxia may be fatal. It begins with progressive issues with walking or one’s gait, but after some time will lead to issues with facial or hand coordination. The lack of coordination in the patient’s facial muscles will eventually lead to blurry vision, slurred speech, spasticity, and tremors particularly in the hands. Despite these physical symptoms, patients with spinocerebellar ataxia still maintain mental function which may cause depression, sleep changes, and other psychological problems that may interfere with the quality of life.
There is no known cure for spinocerebellar ataxia; over time the disease progresses and will eventually get worse. Cannabis can help with these symptoms of spinocerebellar ataxia:
- Spasticity: Patients use medical cannabis for the treatment of muscle spasticity. In a 1982 study, 21 out of 43 respondents with multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries that caused muscle spasticity reported that cannabis use helped reduce spasticity. In another 1997 study, almost every patient in a 112-participant survey reported that cannabis use decreased both pain and muscle spasticity.
- Neuroprotection: Neurological damage and diseases may be challenging to cure completely, but cannabis has been shown to have neuroprotective properties. It also reduces inflammation and helps regenerate brain cells, which may benefit patients of ataxia especially in slowing down the progression of the disease.
- Pain: Cannabis is proven scientifically effective at treating pain caused by a variety of different factors. For patients struggling with pain caused by spinocerebellar ataxia, cannabis offers a safer way to manage pain without resorting to opioids.
- Insomnia:Both THC and CBD have been proven to help increase the overall duration of sleep in insomniacs. Studies also show that cannabis may promote deeper sleep as well as improvement in breathing when taken before sleep. Patients with spinocerebellar ataxia can benefit from deeper and more peaceful sleep that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get because of the symptoms associated with their condition.
- Depression: Living with ataxia can cause depression because the symptoms can hinder the patient’s ability to live their life to the fullest. Instead of taking prescription antidepressants, patients can turn to cannabis to regain a sense of optimism; relax, and feel happy.
- Loss of appetite: Certain cannabis strains are known to induce appetite. This can be extremely beneficial for ataxia patients due to the fact that some may have difficulty eating and swallowing, which will prevent them from consuming the nutrients that they need to strengthen their system and slow down the progression of their disease.
Friedreich’s ataxia (Autosomal recessive ataxias)
Friedreich’s ataxia is another form of the disease that is characterized primarily by the degeneration of the spinal cord and peripheral nerves. This form of ataxia is caused by a genetic mutation, and disorder is recessive. Other symptoms of Friedreich’s ataxia include speech problems, gait disturbance, coordination and reflex problems, scoliosis, and fatigue. Complications that may arise from Friedreich’s ataxia include heart failure or heart disease, and diabetes.
The progression of Friedreich’s ataxia varies from person to person. Progression and symptoms generally worsen due to the presence of free radicals in the body, since they can destroy cells and weaken the immune system. For this reason, scientists suggest treatment with antioxidants such as Vitamin E and coenzyme Q10. In some cases, surgery may be required to slow down or help manage the inevitable progression of the disease.
Cannabis can help manage some symptoms of Friedreich’s ataxia:
- Antioxidants:Studies show that cannabis contains valuable neuroprotective antioxidants. When taken with other vitamins, cannabis may effectively slow down the progression of Friedreich’s ataxia.
- Muscle spasms and relaxation: Topical application or oral consumption of cannabis is widely used to help manage several muscle-related ailments. Patients with Friedreich’s ataxia may rely on cannabis to treat localized pain and loosen up tight muscles especially those in the spine.
- Cardiovascular health: Microdosing cannabis has been shown to be effective in preventing heart disease. Studies also show that cannabis can help protect the heart.
- Diabetes: A leading killer around the world, diabetes is a condition that big pharma has capitalized on. However, this is yet another condition that cannabis may treat and prevent thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Have you used cannabis to treat ataxia? Share with us in the comments below.