AUG 02, 2018 2:30 PM PDT

Cannabinoids Used in Treatment for ALS

WRITTEN BY: Amanda Kahl

The Ice Bucket Challenge brought attention to ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) and the need for further research on the fatal disease. This progressive neurodegenerative disease affects the nerve cells causing damage and death to both the upper and lower motor neurons, which are responsible for communication between the brain and muscles throughout the body. Eventually, the brain can no longer control muscle movement leading to patients not being able to speak, swallow, chew, walk or breath. 

While there is no known cause, cure, or treatment for ALS, scientists are finding a link between genetics and environment in the development of ALS. With the money raised for research, a key genetic factor associated with the disease was identified, NEK1. This gene maintains the cytoskeleton of the cell, which shapes the neuron. More than 80 researchers in 11 countries led by Dr. John Landers from the Universty of Massachusetts Medical School and colleagues, Dr. Jan Veldink of the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, identified the gene in only 3% of the inherited and sporadic forms of ALS cases. Along with finding out what causes the disease, medications used to slow progression or treat the symptoms are still in research stages. 

The use of cannabis as a medication for ALS patients is being explored. A study done by Raman et al. published in 2004 showed in the testing of mice with a cannabinoid treatment that the cannabinoid receptor system has the potential to reduce both excitotoxic and oxidative cell damage. Two of the primary hypotheses underlying motor neuron vulnerability are susceptibility to this kind of cell damage. Cannabinoids were shown to delay motor impairment and prolong survival in this animal study. Along with THC being an anti-inflammatory, it can also provide neuroprotection, which can help treat the symptoms of ALS. Researchers Yiangou et al. conducted a study in 2006 and found that "Spinal cord from ALS patients demonstrate motor neurons damages marked by CB2-positive microglia/macrophages. Moreover, a recent study analyzing activated microglia from the spinal cord in human ALS patients demonstrated a CB2 receptors increase. So all these data show how editing CB2-mediated processes could change ALS progression and how much the endocannabinoid system is potentially involved in reducing neuro-inflammation, excitotoxicity, and oxidative cell damage."

Cannabis treatments can help patients with muscle spasticity, chronic pain, having an appetite, and sleep. Even with the emotional and mental toll that this disease can take on an individual, cannabis can help elevate mood problems and depression. One of the most commonly prescribed medications for ALS is riluzole, and while it protects brain cells and lessens some symptoms, it can produce a whole other list of side effects. This can include fatigue, muscle weakness, appetite loss, headaches, depression, and breathing problems. With more trials and research with medical cannabis as a treatment, it could provide an alternative option for patients without the side effects of prescription drugs. 

ALS affects more than 30,000 Americans, and with viral videos like the Ice Bucket Challenge bringing funding to this disease, more treatment options could become available to patients.

Sources: ALS News TodayNeural Regen. Research, Project CBDNCBI, ALS Association

About the Author
  • Amanda has a Bachelor's in Biological Sciences from the University of Cincinnati. She has a passion for animals, conservation, and environmental sciences. Through her career in science and research, she is able to develop her passion and hopes to pass on to others the joy of learning about science.
You May Also Like
MAY 01, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Can Cannabis Give You a Hangover?
MAY 01, 2020
Can Cannabis Give You a Hangover?
Hangovers from alcohol and other substances are well known. However, just like with alcohol, after using cannabis, also ...
JUN 02, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Ancient Israelites Used Cannabis to Experience God
JUN 02, 2020
Ancient Israelites Used Cannabis to Experience God
Researchers have found evidence that ancient worshipers in Israel may have used cannabis to experience God over 2800 yea ...
JUN 20, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Prolonged Cannabis Use May Prevent Migraines
JUN 20, 2020
Prolonged Cannabis Use May Prevent Migraines
Between 1% and 2% of the world's population suffers from chronic migraines. Researchers from Israel have now found t ...
JUN 23, 2020
Health & Medicine
New Evidence Medical Cannabis Can Lead to Decreased Opioid Use in Chronic Pain
JUN 23, 2020
New Evidence Medical Cannabis Can Lead to Decreased Opioid Use in Chronic Pain
For people with long term ongoing pain, medical cannabis is a valid option that could pave the way to reduced use of opi ...
AUG 04, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Nanotechnology Makes Medicinal Cannabis More Effective
AUG 04, 2020
Nanotechnology Makes Medicinal Cannabis More Effective
It seems that cannabis can treat everything- from chronic pain to acne and maybe even cancer. But as cannabinoids are kn ...
AUG 22, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
People with Depression Twice as Likely to Use Cannabis
AUG 22, 2020
People with Depression Twice as Likely to Use Cannabis
Researchers from Columbia University have found that people with depression are around twice as likely to use cannabis t ...
Loading Comments...