A group of diseases characterized by loss of muscle mass and weakness, and is caused by the inability to produce the proteins necessary to build healthy muscle. Sufferers of muscular dystrophy, or MD, can lose the ability to walk and can become wheelchair bound. While the progressive loss of muscle mass is the main effect of MD, patients also report difficulty swallowing and breathing, and an inability to perform basic life functions. Can cannabis for muscular dystrophy treatment be a long-term solution to these symptoms?
There are many different types of muscular dystrophy. Diagnosing the different types of MD is dependent on the age of onset and muscle groups affected in the individual. It is a hereditary disease with over 30 known genes that cause different types of the illness. The most common variety begin in childhood and tends to primarily affect boys. Other types of MD don’t surface until adulthood.
There is no cure for muscular dystrophy but medications and therapy can help manage symptoms and slow the course of the disease.
Typical Muscular Dystrophy Medication
There are currently no known cures for any type of muscular dystrophy. The most commonly prescribed pharmaceuticals are prednisone and, if the disease affects the heart, a variety of beta blockers. Common therapies include range of motion and physical therapies to maintain mobility in the patient for as long as possible. The use of braces is common and surgery is sometimes necessary to correct damage to the spinal cord.
MD itself does not typically cause severe pain. However, secondary chronic pain associated with the disorders is estimated to affect two-thirds of the sufferers. Pain is caused by muscle cramps or spasms as well as stiff joints, pressure sores and muscle twitches. While traditional treatments such as physical therapy, heat application and exercise can alleviate some of the pain associated with MD, narcotic pain medication is often required at some point. Opiates, the group of pain medications typically prescribed for suffers of chronic pain, can help to alleviate pain; however, they also come at a high cost. Side effects of opiate based medications can be severe and dangerous. Aside from the risk of addiction, opiate based pain medications can also cause severe constipation, dizziness, drowsiness, respiratory depression, nausea, vomiting, difficulty urinating, itching and a variety of other negative side effects. In addition, patients who use opiate based narcotic pain medications typically build up a tolerance to the medication rather quickly, meaning more of the same medication is needed to control the pain.
Cannabinoid Therapy For Muscular Dystrophy
Some sufferers of muscular dystrophy claim that cannabinoid therapy has been effective intreating their pain and stiffness. The main cannabinoids used for treatment are THC and CBD. The neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of cannabis are also believed to help treat symptoms of MD. Indica strains in particular have been reported as the most successful strain for this treatment.
Difference Between CBD & THC In Marijuana
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. It acts much like the cannabinoid chemicals made naturally by the body, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Cannabinoid receptors are concentrated in certain areas of the brain associated with thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception. THC attaches to these receptors and activates them and affects a person’s memory, pleasure, movements, thinking, concentration, coordination, and sensory and time perception, according to NIDA.
THC is one of many compounds found in the resin secreted by glands of the marijuana plant. More of these glands are found around the reproductive organs of the plant than on any other area of the plant. Other compounds unique to marijuana, called cannabinoids, are present in this resin. One cannabinoid, CBD is nonpsychoactive, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and actually blocks the high associated with THC.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the cannabis compound that has significant medical benefits, but does not make people feel “stoned” and can actually counteract the psychoactivity of THC. CBD does not cause a high, unlike THC. The reason why CBD is non-psychoactive is due to its lack of affinity for CB1 receptors. CB1 receptors are found in high concentrations in the brain, and are the pathways responsible for the psychoactive effects of THC.
CBD and THC levels tend to vary between different strains and varieties of cannabis. By using selective breeding techniques, we have managed to create varieties with high levels of CBD and THC.
Medical marijuana may help MD sufferers who live with chronic pain avoid building up a never-ending tolerance to opiate based pain medication. A recent study looked at the effect of adding medical marijuana to the daily regime of patients who consume opiate based pain medication for chronic pain. The study found that the participants experienced an average drop in pain level of 27 percent while not significantly affecting the blood-levels of the prescription drugs. For MD patients, in particular, excessive levels of opiates in the blood can be extremely dangerous given the respiratory problems common to MD sufferers. The fact that medical marijuana was able to reduce pain levels without increasing opiate blood levels is important.
Smoking marijuana has been found to be the most effective and rapid mechanism for relaying the active compounds of cannabis to the brain, thereby allowing the individual with muscular dystrophy to feel immediate relief from pain. This also offers better control over medication levels. Research has shown vaporizing low doses of THC as effective in combating neuropathic pain.
Vaporizing or Vaping
If you don’t like the idea of smoke there is the option to vaporize. Vaporization does not use combustion to heat the medicine. Unfortunately there is some confusion out there about vaporizers. There are now hundreds of vaporizers to choose from. There are three basic types: pen, hand-help, and tabletop. The differences are in price, portability and size. Some vaporizers claim to be able to vaporize plant matter (flowers), wax and oils. Some can only do concentrates, some only oil. The most important difference is the method used to heat the medicine. There are basically two methods (with hybrids on the way) – conduction and convection.
True Vaporizing is done by convection, where air is heated, and in turn the hot air turns the medicine a to vapor which is then inhaled. Conduction Vaporizing happens when a hot element (metal plate, or bowl) touches the medicine. The medicine is placed directly in a metal or ceramic bowl or chamber that is heated which then heats the medicine and the smoke is inhaled. This is still combustion, and not truly vaporizing. This is closer to dabbing but with a much cooler heating element.
What’s Best for my Lungs?
The cleanest method to inhale medicine is true or convective vaporizing. It is better for your lungs since there is no burning or combustion.
Patient Case Study
The story of Clayton Holton’s crusade for medical cannabis access in New Hampshire to treat his muscular mystrophy won him national notoriety and acclaim. Not only did he confront Mitt Romney on the campaign trail in 2007, he released a video detailing the success he experienced with cannabis for muscular dystrophy relief. At six feet tall and only 79 pounds, using medical cannabis allowed Holton to gain eight pounds in two months–unheard of in cases of MD. In his words, “It’s ridiculous that I am labeled as a criminal by my government for using something that is keeping me alive.” Sadly, Holton passed away from the disease in 2015, but medical cannabis was attributed to not only keeping him alive far passed the life expectancy of the disease, but greatly improving his quality of life.
In the case of Michael Oliveri, fighting significant pain issues related to muscular dystrophy led him to give up his unsuccessful pharmaceutical regimine in favor of medical cannabis. He described not only a “miraculous improvement” in his condition, but relocated to California from New Jersey where he could legally obtain the medicine that given him his life back.
The controlling of muscle spasms and pain related to MD have been documented in the cases of Dan Pope and Patrick McClellan. Both eating and vaporizing cannabis have been effective treatment methods producing dramatic results.