Marijuana is rarely mentioned when it comes to some neurological disorders, probably because few people with these medical conditions have used the drug. Although only a small number of clinical tests have investigated the effects of cannabinoids or marijuana on neurological disorders symptoms, clinical trials are still significant to consider with regard to the great quantity of cannabinoid receptors within the brain particularly in regions connected with Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.
Movement disorders are a collection of neurological diseases which result from defects along basal ganglia which are groups of nerve cells found in the brain responsible for muscular activity whereby damage to such areas eventually affects the action of muscles in the limbs, face, and trunk. Some of these movement disorders that are candidates for marijuana-based therapies include dystonias, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Tourette’s syndrome. It is equally important to remember that anxiety and stress are likely to aggravate movement disorders symptoms.
A sub-group of movement disorders sharing same symptoms are known as dystonias. Symptoms include sustained and slow, uncontrolled muscle contractions which oftentimes cause patients to grasp their trunks, necks, or limbs in peculiar positions. Such disorders may be restricted to a single part of the body such that as spasmodic torticollis that has an effect only on the neck. Meige’s syndrome, on the other hand, disfigures the face. Often causing painful mild to fatal disability, these disorders are chronic and slowly progressive. Other dystonias are hereditary, whereas still others happen as side effects of particular medicines. Regardless of the original cause, scientists have yet to pinpoint definite neurological malfunctions that result in dystonias.
No controlled investigation of marijuana use by people having dystonia has been published. A chemical constituent of marijuana, cannabidiol, was experimented with in an initial open test wherein patients were aware of receiving the experimented substance. Slight improvements that increased with the quantity of drug they received were demonstrated and reported by the five participants.
Better results transpired in a research of an animal representation for dystonia: a distorted strain of hamsters wherein scientists have trialled a synthetic cannabinoid that sets in to motion similar cellular receptors just like THC. Under the influence of cannabinoid, the rapid spasms of sudden, jerky actions or slow, recurring writhing motions that the hamsters had exhibited would decrease.
Further, dystonia is also a symptom of some key movement disorders, including Huntington’s disease. Such inherited disorders normally become evident during middle age, worsen, and inevitably lead to death in a span of 15 years from its manifestation. Symptoms of this disease include unrestrained muscle movements known as chorea, emotional trouble, and dementia. Some have proposed marijuana as an alternative medication to patients with Huntington’s disease since it reduces the feelings of stress and anxiety, which exacerbate involuntary movements. Studies in animals appear that cannabinoids may repress choreic movements which are presumed by provoking receptors along the basal ganglia.
Approximately one million Americans aged 50 and up are affected by one of the most distressing movement disorders: Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms that accompany this disease are muscular rigidity, instability, tremor, and impeded motion. The only drug found effective in treating Parkinson’s disease so far – levodopa – unfortunately has many drawbacks. Because of this, physicians are inclined to reserving it for impaired patients who are functional. After years of being used, the effects of this drug tend to diminish quickly. This is why patients continuously cycle through stages of disability and mobility, and experience further side effects of confusion, nausea, and hallucination.
Further, researchers believe that while levodopa noticeably relieves all the signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, the use of it may hasten the disease’s progress. However, there is no clinical confirmation available that attests to this concern. Cannabinoids could, in theory, be helpful in curing the disorder because they act on the same neurological pathway that Parkinson’s disease disrupts.
Tourette’s syndrome, on the other hand, is unlike that of Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases because it naturally emerges during childhood. This disease is characterized by different rapid, spontaneous, cyclic movements as well as vocalizations that are together called tics. The origins of this disease are mostly unidentified but are believed to damage brain areas that change a person’s intent to engage definite movements. Injuries to these areas produce involuntary movements in Huntington’s disease and limit voluntary movements in Parkinson’s disease.
Four clinical case studies show that marijuana employment can lessen tics in Tourette’s patients, and in three out of four cases, researchers propose that the properties of marijuana on anxiety-reduction also caused the improvement of patients’ symptoms.
Unfortunately, although a convincing basis exists for the use of cannabinoids as treatment, especially in movement, clinical verification for their helpfulness in alleviating symptoms and signs of movement disorders is still deficient. The few available research studies were conducted on a small number of patients without the consideration that marijuana’s anti-anxiety effects may diminish the symptoms being investigated. Further, though there are isolated anecdotal studies about marijuana helping patients with such disorders, surveys implying that these patients’ experiences are at the most representative are non-existent. The IOM team suggests doing placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical tests of single cannabinoids like THC for movement disorders treatment.
IOM also particularized that these tests should assess the influence of cannabinoids on movement only, meaning, these experiments must differentiate cannabinoids’ effects on anxiety or mood from their effects on movement. Cannabinoids, consequently, characterize an exciting possibility for curing movement disorders, but this still needs to be proven.