Medical marijuana for Huntington’s disease: can it really help with symptoms? It is not surprising that many people with the neurodegenerative disease Huntington’s disease (HD) may want to try alternative therapies for treating their symptoms, as a person with HD usually has quite a long list of medications they must take. The standard treatment used by most doctors involves pharmaceutical drugs prescribed for patients, but sometimes these medications prove helpful and other times problematic.
One study showed that cannabinoids or medical marijuana, which are derivatives of the cannabis plant commonly smoked for recreational purposes, helped alleviate some of the worst HD symptoms. Using medical marijuana for Huntington’s disease under a qualified medical marijuana doctor’s care may help ease symptoms for Huntington patients.
What is Huntington’s Disease?
Huntington’s Disease is caused by an inherited gene that produces a mutated protein that kills neurons in the hippocampus, cerebral cortex, and striatum of the brain which control muscle coordination (movement), cognition (thought process), and emotions (mood).
Symptoms usually appear between 30 to 50 years old but can occur as early as 2 or 3 years old in juvenile Huntington’s disease. The first signs are slight clumsiness, lack of balance, anxiety symptoms, poor coordination, or jerky movements called chorea. These symptoms progress slowly over time where the person will begin noticing cognitive problems such as memory loss and troubles with learning new information. As time goes on they will also develop behavioral problems like depression, anxiety, irritability, and sometimes psychosis. Eventually, patients become completely dependent on others for their care.
What are Cannabinoids?
Cannabinoids are the chemical components of marijuana that act on cannabinoid receptors in cells throughout the body. Medical marijuana is any part of the cannabis plant that people use to treat health problems, though it is most commonly used as a pain reliever and for other symptoms such as nausea control. There are 60 different cannabinoids found in medical marijuana but THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol) have demonstrated potent medicinal effects. Many scientists believe these two chemicals work together to help treat so many conditions including HD because they support each other’s pain-relieving effect by binding to CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors.
How Researchers Study Medical Marijuana for Huntington’s Disease
Researchers believe that using medical marijuana for Huntington’s disease could be very effective because the chemical THC binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain. These receptors help control muscle coordination, cognition, and mood and researchers found that giving a CBD and THC derivative called Sativex orally helped reduce chorea or jerky movements associated with HD.
In this study, researchers gave 21 participants Sativex over 8 weeks and compared them to 29 people who received a placebo over the same time frame. The people who took Sativex experienced a clear improvement in their cognitive abilities as well as their quality of life while those receiving the placebo experienced no change from when they started taking it.
Researchers also looked at levels of psychiatric symptoms between the actual drug and the placebo group over the 8 weeks. Those patients receiving placebo experienced a slight worsening in both psychiatric symptoms and quality of life, whereas those who took Sativex for Huntington’s disease did not experience any change in their symptoms or quality of life.
Cannabinoids Act As Neuroprotectors for Huntington’s Disease
Using medical marijuana for Huntington’s disease may also help alleviate symptoms by protecting the neurons from damage caused by mutant Huntington protein. Researchers discovered this when they looked at THC in lab studies where it reduced swelling, protected nerve cells from dying, and improved cell metabolism after being exposed to harmful toxins similar to those who have HD.
Medical Marijuana Patients Studies
The study found that taking medical marijuana for Huntington’s disease significantly improved cognitive function, mood, and overall well-being in people with HD while also relieving psychiatric problems associated with the disease such as irritability, depression, and mood swings. The benefits of using medical marijuana for Huntington’s disease were so great that researchers stopped the trial early because they couldn’t keep up with how many participants wanted to be included in this study.
The researchers concluded that taking THC and CBD together can relieve some of the worst HD symptoms over time while causing few side effects. They noticed little improvement in psychiatric symptoms but did see reduced chorea or jerky movements due to increased coordination. These studies have shown great results for using medical marijuana for Huntington’s disease so long as patients carefully monitor their dosage levels closely to ensure they stay within safe limits.
Is Medical Cannabis Right For Me?
Medical marijuana for Huntington’s disease is best used under a doctor’s care after being properly diagnosed with the condition. Anyone who wants to try using medical marijuana should first see if they are eligible for the treatment after speaking with their doctor.
To be able to use medical marijuana, patients must have a written certification from a healthcare provider that suggests using it for treating Huntington’s disease. In addition to this written certification, patients must also have a state-issued ID card which verifies that they are certified by at least one of the qualifying states that regulate medical marijuana programs or an online system set up by each state such as Florida’s Medical Marijuana Registry system.
Patients who want to qualify for medical marijuana should first speak with their primary care physician about getting a referral before going to see a medical marijuana doctor about an official diagnosis.