ALS, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, is a disease that attacks the nervous system. It affects the neurons, or messengers, that send signals to your muscles; specifically, this disorder refers to the breakdown of communication between these neurons and the muscles you can voluntarily control, like the ones in your arms and legs. Medical cannabis is proven to benefit patients with ALS and other neurological diseases. Take our short eligibility survey to see if you pre-qualify to become a medical cannabis patient; at your appointment, speak with a Florida Medical Cannabis Doctor to discover what treatment options may be best for you.
As the most common of all neurological diseases that destroy the nervous system, ALS begins with weakness in the muscles controlling arm and leg movement. Patients may notice difficulty walking, running, and writing in the early stages. As the disorder progresses, sufferers have trouble walking, experience muscle spasms, lose muscle tone and bulk, and have difficulty speaking. Pain caused by lack of mobility is also common. Eventually, the muscles that control breathing are affected and patients die from respiratory failure. The cause of ALS is unknown. It can be genetic but up to 90% of cases happen to those with no family history of the disease. While there is no cure for this disorder, medical cannabis can help ease the symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life.
There are several ways using cannabis can benefit those suffering from ALS.
- Decrease in pain and inflammation. THC and CBD both demonstrate the ability to relieve pain and swelling by interacting with CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body. In fact, CBD is more effective as an anti-inflammatory compound than Vitamin C, other antioxidants, and Omega-3. The entourage effect really comes into play here – the benefits of CBD are boosted by the presence of THC, and they work together better than either would separately to help ease these symptoms.
- Relief of muscle spasticity. Δ-9 THC has been proven effective in lessening muscle spasms, both in frequency and severity. This occurs without the side effects of many pharmaceutical antispasmodic drugs, and patients tolerate it much better.
- Easier breathing. Δ-1 THC is a potent bronchodilator. It opens breathing passages, making breathing easier for those with asthma as well as other breathing difficulties. It works best for this purpose when used via inhaler or as a spray.
- Decreased saliva production. ALS patients experience issues with increased saliva and drooling as their disease progresses. THC causes decreased saliva by binding with the receptors in the salivary glands that are responsible for its production.
- Increased appetite. Loss of appetite can be caused by pain, inflammation, difficulty breathing, or trouble swallowing. Cannabis acts as an appetite stimulant and may help slow weight loss as well as muscle wasting.
- Better balance. As ALS progresses and the nervous system begins to degrade, it can cause a drop in blood pressure when moving from a lying or sitting position to being upright; patients can become unsteady on their feet, feel weak, and even have difficulty staying up for more than a short time. Since cannabis causes blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow to the arms and legs as well as the rest of the body, it can ease this symptom and enable the patient to better tolerate changes in position.
- Improved symptoms of depression. Cannabis, especially high-CBD strains, is known to help ease depression. It functions by helping stabilize the endocannabinoid system found in our bodies, which can be compromised by the stress brought on by chronic illness.
- Slower breakdown of affected neurons. As ALS progresses, the damaged neurons cause problems inside the body. Cannabis acts as a neuroprotectant by interacting with both CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system to slow the breakdown of neurons and even help preserve remaining motor neuron function.
- Improved quality of life. By easing the symptoms of ALS, cannabis not only helps patients feel better, but it may even enable them to live longer as it slows the progression of the disease.
Best Cannabis Strains for ALS Patients
The strains proven to be most effective for those suffering from ALS include those high in both CBD and THC. Here are some suggestions:
- Sour Diesel. High in THC and CBD, with a distinctive terpene profile, Sour Diesel provides pain relief as well as relaxing the neurons; this decreases inflammation and spasticity.
- ACDC. This strain is high in CBD and low in THC, which is good for those who suffer from severe muscle spasms but don’t want the high feeling associated with THC-rich strains.
- Blue Dream. Provides relaxation of muscles and nerves in addition to easing mental stress. It has a nice THC/CBD mix and potent terpenes.
- Purple Urkle. This is a good strain for easing pain, helps with sleep and anxiety, and also relieves spasticity. It’s been around since the 80s and has a loyal following.
- Stephen Hawking Kush. An indica with a 1:2 CBD/THC ratio, it is a fruity medicinal strain that helps with pain, stress, and anxiety.
- Ringo’s Gift. This strain helps with the emotional stresses and mood swings caused by chronic illness as it relaxes the patient and brings on a subtle, soothing high.
- Jack Herer. A sativa good for treating fatigue, pain, loss of appetite, depression, and nausea. The dry mouth it is known for can be beneficial for those struggling with excessive salivation and drooling caused by ALS. Since it can contain up to 23% THC, it is best to start slowly with this strain and build up to optimal tolerance levels.
- One to One. Balanced both as a hybrid and as a 1:1 THC/CBD strain, it provides a mellow high. It is great for pain relief as well as a gentle feeling of relaxation without experiencing couch-lock.
- Jamaican Lion. A sativa-dominant hybrid rich in CBD, it can be used to treat pain, headaches, anxiety, nausea, cramps, muscle spasms and inflammation. Because it is CBD-heavy, the high is balanced out so you should feel relaxed without losing control.
While living with ALS can be difficult, using cannabis to treat the symptoms and improve quality of life offers a viable alternative to relying on pharmaceutical medications that may or may not work and often leave the patient with unpleasant side effects. Discuss your concerns with one of our Florida Medical Cannabis Doctors to see what options and routes would work best for you.