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Dystonia and Cannabis

Treating Dystonia with Cannabis


Dystonia is a movement disorder in which the muscles contract involuntarily. While there are different types of dystonia, symptoms can range from mild to severe and typically center on one specific area of the body.

The involuntary muscle spasms caused by dystonia cause disrupted posture and pain. While the spasms usually begin mildly and are linked to a specific activity, they tend to worsen over time. There are various types of dystonia, including those that affect the eyelids, neck, vocal cords, or forearms and hands.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes dystonia, but some experts believed that it is caused by disrupted connections between the nerve cells and the brain that may be genetic. Dystonia is also sometimes linked to other movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease or Huntington’s disease, or to other conditions such as traumatic brain injury, stroke, birth injury, brain tumor, infection, or reaction to a contaminant or a specific medication.

Dystonia is a chronic condition, which means there is no cure. However, treatments can resolve many of the symptoms in some people. These treatments may include botulism injections or medications that work on dopamine or other neurotransmitters in the brain, such as Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, or certain antidepressants. Physical and occupational therapy may also be effective in limiting involuntary movements. In some cases, a surgical technique called deep brain stimulation in which electrodes are implanted into the brain may be necessary. Other people have success with alternative treatments, such as biofeedback, meditation, yoga, Pilates, or acupuncture.

Because dystonia causes chronic pain, medical marijuana can be an effective treatment. According to one study published in The Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, patients who used medical cannabis to treat pain associated with dystonia reported no pain on a scale of 1 to 10 for 48 hours. These pain relieving effects were corroborated by a more recent study published in the medical journal Movement Disorders. However, while medical cannabis has been shown to resolve the pain of this disorder, the effect on the muscle spasms themselves is unknown. While not all medical marijuana states have specifically legalized its use for dystonia, all but one of these states does allow the use of medical cannabis for chronic pain.

If left untreated, dystonia can cause serious complications, including paralysis, blindness, physical deformities, pain, fatigue, depression, and anxiety. If you’re experiencing involuntary muscle spasms, talk with your doctor. He or she can help determine the underlying cause and recommend appropriate therapies.

For more information visit the American Dystonia Society.

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