How Medical Marijuana Helps Treat Ataxia
- Ataxia is a condition that impairs motor skills. It can also cause pain, sleep disorders, and depression.
- Compounds found in medical marijuana have been shown to help relieve ataxia symptoms in some patients.
- Ataxia patients have the option of several marijuana strains, delivery methods, and formulas available at medical marijuana dispensaries nationwide.
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?
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?
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.
Ataxia is not a disease but rather a catch-all term that encompasses an array of medical symptoms — most notably, problems with movement. It can also cause pain, sleeplessness, depression, and other symptoms.
Medical marijuana affects the ECS which is responsible for controlling many of the bodily functions involved in ataxia symptoms. Many patients find that medical marijuana helps to reduce their symptoms. Studies also suggest that cannabinoids offer neuroprotectant properties that can slow the progression of ataxia.
Ataxia is caused by serious medical conditions all of which require the ongoing care of a knowledgeable medical marijuana doctor. Patients should not be self-medicating.
Sources and additional reading
- Does modulation of the endocannabinoid system have potential therapeutic utility in cerebellar ataxia?