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Myoclonus and Cannabis

Treating Myoclonus with Cannabis

Cannabis an Alternative to Anticonvulsants for Myoclonus

Myoclonus is a condition that causes short, sharp, involuntary muscle jerks. At its most benign, myclonus causes hiccups, as well as “sleep starts,” or the sudden jerks that sometimes occur before drifting off to sleep. More severe forms of myclonus are usually the result of a neurological condition, such as epilepsy, but identifying the underlying cause for involuntary muscle movements can be extremely challenging for patients and health professionals.

Patients often describe the muscle shakes, spasms or jerks as very sudden and highly variable in intensity, frequency and location. The involuntary muscle movements are brief, involuntary and intense, sometimes severe enough to interfere with eating, speaking and walking. The most common sufferers of myoclonus as a symptom are epileptics, for whom powerful seizures are a severe form of myoclonus.

Myoclonus can severely reduce patients’ overall quality of life, making it difficult to perform simple tasks. The sudden and unpredictable nature of episodes of myoclonus can also lead to anxiety about performing in a variety of situations. In its most serious form, myoclonus describes total-body seizures that incapacitate the sufferer and can cause short-term memory loss.

There are various forms of myoclonus, each varying in intensity and etiology. Physiological myoclonus covers such forms as hiccups, sleep starts, shakes due to anxiety and involuntary movements during sleep. Physiological myoclonus is easily explained and rarely requires treatment. Essential myoclonus describes a chronic condition of involuntary muscle movements without an underlying physical cause. Doctors often have no explanation for the causes of essential myoclonus, which makes treatment very difficult. In some cases, essential myoclonus may be hereditary. Secondary myoclonus is a more common form that is caused by any number of underlying physical ailments, such as head or spinal cord injury, an infection, a liver or kidney disease, stroke, tumor, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (“mad cow disease”) or Alzheimer’s.

Identifying the cause of myoclonus is the first step of treatment. A neurologist or another specialist will most often be able to identify the underlying physical cause and start a treatment. Although for patients in treatment or for sufferers of an unexplained essential myoclonus, medical marijuana may be an option to alleviate many symptoms of the condition. Anticonvulsant medications are commonly prescribed in the case of an unexplained, essential myoclonus; however, these medications come with a host of negative side-effects, such as emotional disturbances, anemia, calcium loss, loss of motor control and even death.

Marijuana acts as a muscle relaxant, an anticonvulsant and as a mild CNS depressant: as such it is a suitable treatment for almost all kinds of myoclonus, but most primarily essential myoclonus which is unexplained and difficult to treat by conventional means. Studies have already shown medical marijuana’s power to reduce the intensity of epileptic seizures, and although little official research has been done, in Illinois, marijuana is recognized by health professionals as a suitable treatment for all forms of myoclonus. Illinois dispensaries have identified strains that are especially adept at reducing involuntary muscle movements caused by epilepsy and unexplained myoclonus. Patients who suffer from an unexplained or severe myoclonus should investigate the potential of medical cannabis to help control their symptoms.

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