Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative illness that damages motor neurons and leads to progressive muscle wasting, weakness, and, ultimately, death. While there are currently no treatments or cures for the condition, some research suggests that cannabis may be able to alleviate some of its symptoms, including chronic pain, spasticity, and depression.
The potential for cannabinoids to treat ALS is highlighted in a study from 2017. There, researchers found that the endocannabinoid system (the system on which cannabinoids act) has the ability to modulate key traits that contribute to neurodegenerative illnesses like ALS.
This matches findings from preclinical trials. For example, a study from 2004 on mice with ALS found that those treated with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) before and after the onset of the disease tended to have improved motor function and increased disease survival. The researchers behind the study attribute this to a reduction in cell damage and death. Meanwhile, a study from 2005 found that treating mice with cannabidiol (CBD) could delay their onset of ALS-like symptoms.
While few studies have confirmed similar effects in humans, there is some evidence that this is the case. In a study from 2018, for example, researchers treated ALS patients with a pharmaceutical preparation of THC and CBD. In doing so, they found that 55% of patients with ALS reported improvements in spasticity and pain, whereas the same was true for only 13% in the placebo group.
Given the psychoactive effects of THC and the fact that CBD is not psychoactive, further research efforts are currently underway to investigate CBD alone. As such, a Phase III clinical trial is now underway in Australia to assess the effects of CBD oil on 30 patients with the condition. Estimated to reach completion by January 2022, the study wil lexmaine how the oil affects peoples' ALS Functional Rating Scores and measures, including pain, spasticity, and quality of life.