When it comes to treating symptoms associated with ALS, people will try a variety of methods to see what will work best for them. Among those options is medical marijuana, or cannabis. Although this can be a controversial treatment method depending on where you live and your outlook on the drug, some people with ALS believe the benefits provided by cannabis makes it easier to live with ALS. Here’s what you should know about cannabis and ALS treatment.*
Why People Use it
Because cannabis is known to suppress inflammatory response and act a numbing agent, it makes sense that it would be considered and used to relieve pain. Its use has been associated with other life-limiting diseases and chronic conditions, including cancer and multiple sclerosis, in a similar way. In a survey conducted on 500 people with ALS in 2017, it showed that 93% of people with ALS using cannabis believe it successfully relieves pain associated with ALS, including muscle cramps and spasms.
Some of the side effects of using cannabis include increased appetite and dry mouth, which can be advantageous to people with ALS who are experiencing weight loss and increased saliva production. It can also help with insomnia, speech and swallowing. In addition to the physical relief cannabis use can provide, it can also have a positive emotional and mental impact, improving attitude, hopefulness, stress and anxiety. All of this combined can make living with ALS easier.
Types and Methods
For people with ALS, a variety of methods can be used for cannabis intake, including smoking, oils, pills, edibles and topical treatments. Smoking can be complicated due to the damage it can cause to the respiratory system, especially considering that ALS already has an effect on respiratory muscles. Oral sprays are also available, as well as cannabis-infused lotion and patches that can be applied to muscles that cause pain, cramp up or become stiff.
Both THC and CBD can be helpful in relieving symptoms and potentially slow down the progression of the disease. Either method can be utilized depending on what the individual with ALS is seeking in the way of treatment and what their state laws allow.
Testimonial from Our Region
“I am probably the best that I have been in several years! All of my vitals are perfect, my recent blood work was better than ever and I feel good. Everyone says that I look better than I have in years! I have been in the medical marijuana program for a year and a half and even though I used it prior to that, the quality and different medical strains make a huge difference. Nothing else has changed in my daily regimen. There’s still a stigma around medical marijuana so I try to share my 16.5 ALS year story to people like you that can share it with other PALS and CALS and that I will help them with anything if they are receptive. I’m knowledgeable and willing to assist.” –Barry C. from IL, 2017
Issues and Concerns
One of the biggest issues regarding cannabis use is the fact that it is not legal everywhere and it can be hard to obtain or expensive even if it is legal. There is also a stigma around cannabis, which could limit people with ALS who use cannabis from disclosing their use to their doctor, limiting important health conversations.
The side effects to cannabis can also keep people from seeking it out. Cannabis can make some feel detached and others felt they relied too much on its numbing qualities to avoid the reality of their diagnosis.
Although there have been several studies testing the effects of cannabis on mice with ALS, there have been no clinical studies on the effect of cannabis on people with ALS. This is a topic that would benefit from more research and clinical trials, which will be determined as legislation changes over the next several years. As its effects are studied more in-depth, its association, help or detriment with ALS symptoms will become more clear.
For more information on the ALS Association St. Louis Regional Chapter, visit http://www.alsa-stl.org.
*The ALS Association strongly supports and advocates for people living with ALS and their families the right to choose therapies and/or treatments. We believe that the use of medical marijuana in the treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a decision that should be made by the person with ALS in consultation with a physician and family. We believe the decision regarding this treatment option is entirely a matter of individual conscience and should consider potential benefits, harmful effects and legal consequences.
The mission of The ALS Association is to lead the fight to cure and treat ALS through global, cutting-edge research, and to empower people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease and their families to live fuller lives by providing them with compassionate care and support. We believe alternative medical treatments should be based on results from controlled clinical studies and should be subject to the same standards applicable to other prescription medications and treatments such as quality, safety and efficacy.