Cerebral Palsy and Medical Marijuana
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Cerebral palsy remains a life-long disorder, with symptoms ranging from mild spastic movements to the inability to control the limbs and severe seizures. While research for a cure is still being conducted, scientists continue to focus on identifying different forms of effective treatment to help control the symptoms. Research on the use of medical marijuana in cerebral palsy is still limited, but findings from previous studies suggest that it offers a host of benefits, including pain control, reduction of spastic movements, reduction of seizures, and more.
Survey of Pain Treatment Study
In 2011, results of a study on the treatment of pain in people with cerebral palsy were published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A total of 83 adults with cerebral palsy participated in the study, which consisted of trying 23 different medications for pain, including medical marijuana. The legs, lower back, and hips were reported as the most common painful areas. According to the paper,
“The treatment that was rated as providing the most relief was marijuana; however, less than 5% of the sample reported ever using this drug for pain.”
Medical Marijuana and Spastic Quadriplegia
Spastic quadriplegia is the most severe form of cerebral palsy, affecting all of the extremities, the face, and the trunk. The majority of children with spastic quadriplegia are unable to walk, and their speech is usually profoundly affected. While the limbs can be extremely stiff, their neck muscles may be weak, making it difficult for them to hold their head up. Physical pain and communication problems are common in those with spastic quadriplegia.
Although more data are needed, the few studies conducted on the use of medical marijuana for spastic quadriplegia symptoms indicate that it offers numerous therapeutic benefits. For example, a study published by the NIH in 2007 states that clinical experience and animal studies demonstrate that the active constituents in marijuana help to control partial seizures, which are frequently seen in people with spastic quadriplegia.
Another study published in 2014 showed marijuana to be effective in reducing painful muscle spasms. Although the study focused on people who experienced muscle spasms associated with multiple sclerosis, spasms are one of the most common symptoms in people with cerebral palsy.
Federal guidelines make it difficult for scientists to continue conducting in-depth research. However, many states now permit medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of spasms and pain. Louisiana is the only state that allows its use specifically to treat spastic quadriplegia without a doctor’s referral. The following states allow it to be used for spastic quadriplegia only when prescribed by a physician, including:
- Rhode Island
Cannabis Oil (CBD)
Cannabis oil, or CBD oil, named after one of the many compounds found in marijuana, has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, especially after a special aired on CNN involving a young girl who once suffered from close to 50 convulsive seizures every day. After exhausting every other possible option to help her, the girl’s parents turned to a formulation with a high concentration of CBD oil, now known as “Charlotte’s Web” after their daughter’s first name.
Charlotte’s parents titrated the CBD oil over several weeks while continuing the seizure treatment plan already in place. After weeks of using the oil, the frequency of Charlotte’s seizures went down to only two or three per day.
The CBD oil treatment became so successful that Charlotte was eventually successfully weaned off of her other anti-seizure medications. She also began walking, talking, and even riding her bicycle, things she had difficulty doing before. According to her father, Matt,
“I literally see Charlotte’s brain making connections that haven’t been made in years. My thought now is, why were we the ones that had to go out and find this cure? This natural cure? How come a doctor didn’t know about this? How come they didn’t make me aware of this?”
Charlotte’s mother Page added,
“I didn’t hear her laugh for six months. I didn’t hear her voice at all, just her crying. I can’t imagine that I would be watching her making these gains that she’s making, doing the things that she’s doing (without the medical marijuana). I don’t take it for granted. Every day is a blessing.”
More and more companies are offering CBD oil as a treatment for children with cerebral palsy who not only experience seizures but also muscle spasms and chronic pain.
It’s important to fully research companies and attempt to get your physician’s advice before making a decision regarding any kind of medication. Keep in mind, however, that state laws and even personal preferences may prohibit your child’s doctor from giving you a recommendation for CBD treatment.
The Myth of “Getting High” and Medical Marijuana
One of the legitimate concerns of parents considering medical marijuana treatment for their children is the “getting high” factor. According to David Casarett, MD, author of Stoned: A Doctor’s Case For Medical Marijuana, THC is the compound in marijuana that’s responsible for producing the feeling of being high.
The majority of medical marijuana and cannabis oil products have such a low concentration of THC that there is literally no high related to its use. Medical marijuana and CBD oil generally contain a higher concentration of CBD. It is the CBD ingredient in marijuana that helps treat seizures and muscle spasms.
“It’s THC that gets you high. If you feel euphoric, or if you’re unfortunate enough to have bad side effects (like hallucinations), those are due to THC. So marijuana probably will get you high as long as it’s got some THC in it. But, CBD, on the other hand, doesn’t have any of those brain effects. In fact, there have been studies using 300, 400, or 600 milligrams of CBD — which is a really whopping dose — with no psychological effects whatsoever.”
He also added,
“So, if you’re using marijuana or marijuana products that are low in THC, then no, you won’t get high. That includes, most notably, the concentrated oils that are used [to treat] pediatric seizures.”
Speech Disorders and Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana may also be beneficial for those with cerebral palsy who have speech disorders and impediments, such as stuttering. Speech repetition and stuttering are frequently associated with cerebral palsy and, although these issues aren’t life-threatening, they can be extremely debilitating to people when they want to communicate more effectively.
Jacqueline Patterson has lived with cerebral palsy and a severe stuttering issue since she was a little girl. In 2007, she created a documentary entitled In Pot We Trust, where she detailed how marijuana not only helped reduce her speech problem significantly, but also improved her severe muscle pain and stiffness.
Unfortunately, Patterson used marijuana in Missouri, a state that doesn’t allow its use for any purpose, including medical indications. Consequently, her four children were taken away from her, but she took her case to Missouri representatives. While speaking to the group of legislators, she said,
For the first time, my muscles were not tense. And words slid from my mouth, from gggghhh — from me at a fluid pace instead of sssss-stuck on my tongue like a g-ghh — like a train wreck.”
Patterson didn’t have much success convincing the chairmen that day that the medical use of marijuana was turning her health around and helping her family, so she eventually moved to California, along with her four children. She now advocates for the use of marijuana as a treatment for people with cerebral palsy and other disorders.
Currently, there’s very little clinical research published on medical marijuana and stuttering, but numerous physicians in several states advocate its use as an effective treatment option for speech problems.