Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
Lou Gehrig’s Disease
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is a neurological disease that affects the motor neurons of the brain and spinal cord. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS can be devastating and there is no known cure.
Motor neurons are located in the brain, brain stem, and spinal cord. Upper motor neurons in the brain send signals to the lower motor neurons in the brain stem and spinal cord that then signals muscles to move as the person wants them to. With ALS, these motor neurons gradually deteriorate and begin to die, affecting those muscles that are considered “controllable,” like the muscles of the arms, legs, and face. These muscles then start to atrophy and eventually lose the ability to work properly. A person with ALS will eventually find it difficult to eat, move around, and as the diaphragm muscles atrophy, find it difficult to breath.
Most people with ALS keep their cognitive functions. Sadly, most people with ALS end up dying of respiratory failure. There are no precursors or associated risk factors that signal or lead to ALS. Any ethnicity can get it, although men tend to have ALS more often than women. It usually doesn’t occur until ages 60 to 69, but it can present at any age.
Symptoms of ALS include muscle twitches; a weakness of a hand, arm, or leg; difficulty eating; and difficulty talking. People often start to know something is wrong because they are stumbling more often or find they are unable to grasp objects like they normally do.
As there is no cure for ALS, treatment focuses on the symptoms. Riluzole can help with extending the life of motor neurons by a few months, mostly with those who have a difficulty swallowing. Other treatments focus on the physical symptoms of the disease, like fatigue, depression, muscle spasms, sleep disturbances, muscle cramps, and excess saliva and phlegm.
Cannabis and ALS
There has been a considerable amount of research conducted on the use of cannabis as part of the treatment for ALS. Cannabis has been shown to be effective as an analgesia, or for treating certain types of pain. Cannabis can also help with muscle relaxation and in relaxing or widening the airways of the lungs. In addition, studies show that cannabis helps in reducing the production of saliva, helps with sleep, and helps combat certain types of depression.
Some of the more promising studies suggest that THC may help reduce the oxidative damage of ALS (the damage to cells due to free radicals) and ecitotoxicity (over stimulation of neurons that leads to damage). In addition, cannabidnol has been shown to reduce ALS physical symptoms.
What is interesting about the use of medical marijuana and ALS is that cannabis acts in a multitude of ways to both hinder the onset of symptoms, possibly reduce progression, and help with its symptoms:
Cannabis may act as a(n) or affect the role of:
- Glutamate antagonist
- Microglial cell modulator (factor that influences cells to “consume” dead cells)
- Antiapoptotic agent (factors that influence the dying and living of cells)
- Neurotrophic (“nerve growing”) factors
- Mitochondrial function-enhancing agent (factors that improve the function of mitochondria)
What is most interesting is how cannabis offers potential hope as an overall treatment for a variety of symptoms and factors of ALS. While there is no known cure, cannabis can provide relief for the symptoms and offers hope for future research.
For more information visit the ALS Association.