Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed. About 30,000 Americans currently suffer from ALS. More than half of ALS patients die within 2.5 years following the onset of symptoms.
How Cannabis Can Help Relieve Symptoms
Recent preclinical findings indicate that cannabinoids (CBD) can delay ALS progression and may be effective in moderating the disease’s development. Cannabis also can help alleviate certain symptoms such as pain, appetite loss, depression and drooling.
Research published by investigators at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco reported that the administration of THC both before and after the onset of ALS symptoms helped slow down the progression of the disease.
Writing in the March 2004 issue of the journal of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis & Other Motor Neuron Disorders, investigators at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco reported that the administration of THC both before and after the onset of ALS symptoms staved disease progression and prolonged survival in animals compared to untreated controls.
Additional trials in animal models of ALS have shown that the administration of other naturally occurring and synthetic cannabinoids also can moderate ALS progression but not necessarily impact survival. One recent study demonstrated that blocking the CB1CBD receptor did extend life span in an ALS mouse model, suggesting that CBD’s beneficial effects on ALS may be mediated by non-CB1 receptor mechanisms.
Experts are calling for clinical trials to assess CBD for the treatment of ALS. In the American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine in 2010, a team of investigators reported, “Based on the currently available scientific data, it is reasonable to think that cannabis might significantly slow the progression of ALS, potentially extending life expectancy and substantially reducing the overall burden of the disease.” They concluded, “There is an overwhelming amount of preclinical and clinical evidence to warrant initiating a multi-center randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial of cannabis as a disease-modifying compound in ALS.”
In a first ever survey of patients with ALS using cannabis, respondents said that cannabis was ineffective in reducing difficulties with speech and swallowing, and sexual dysfunction, but there were symptomatic benefits when observed for insomnia, appetite and spasticity.