Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a rare genetic condition that affects the way the body produces or processes collagen. It can cause a variety of symptoms ranging from joint hypermobility to life-threatening organ ruptures. However, one of the most common problems for people with Ehlers-Danlos is chronic pain.
For patients wishing to avoid opioid painkillers, medical marijuana may seem like a safer alternative. But how effective is cannabis for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome? Read on to find out.
What Is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?
Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) affects approximately 1 in 5000 people globally. It is an inherited disorder that causes the body to produce or process collagen abnormally.
Collagen is the protein responsible for giving strength and structure to the connective tissue.
It is a vital component of joints, ligaments, tendons, and skin. It also helps to form organs’ internal walls, including the blood vessels and digestive tract.
Therefore, people with EDS may have symptoms that affect any of these structures.
There are at least 13 forms of EDS. Each has distinctive characteristics, but there is also a degree of overlap in their clinical features. Some of the most common EDS symptoms include:
- Joint hypermobility
- Frequent full or partial dislocations
- Chronic pain
- Early-onset osteoarthritis
- Soft, fragile, loose, or elastic skin
- Bruising easily
- Increased risk of organ or blood vessel ruptures
- Increased risk of prolapses or hernias
- Cardiovascular disorders
- Menstrual disorders
- Increased risk of complications during pregnancy
Some forms of EDS can reduce life expectancy, usually due to cardiovascular complications. However, other types are less dangerous, and many people with EDS can live long, although somewhat restricted lives.
What Causes Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome?
EDS develops due to inherited mutations in the genes responsible for collagen production.
Some forms of EDS follow an autosomal recessive pattern, meaning that both parents must carry the genetic mutations to pass them on. However, other types follow an autosomal dominant pattern and can be inherited from just one parent.
Traditional Ehlers-Danlos Treatments
There is no cure for EDS. Therefore, treatment aims to manage symptoms and reduce complications. Some of the most common treatments for EDS include:
- Pain management, including opioid painkillers
- Physical therapy
- Assistive devices, such as mobility aids
- Frequent cardiovascular workups
- Psychological support
In some instances, surgery may be necessary. However, some types of EDS can increase the risk of complications such as bleeding, healing issues, and post-surgical hernias.
Due to the limited treatment options for EDS, some patients are turning to medical cannabis. But how does it help, and is it actually effective? Let’s take a look.
Medical Cannabis for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
There is currently no research specifically on cannabis for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. However, many studies support its use for chronic pain.
For example, a small 2002 study found that 12/15 participants experienced improvements in pain and mood with a low dose of smoked cannabis. Furthermore, 11/15 participants reported improvements in sleep.
A 2018 survey of 984 medical marijuana patients with chronic pain supported these results. When the survey asked how effectively cannabis relieved the participants’ symptoms, the average score was 74.7%.
There are also many anecdotal reports suggesting medical cannabis could benefit patients with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. One example, highlighted by the medical journal The Lancet, discusses the case of a British woman named Lucy Stafford.
By age 19, Stafford had already received many treatments for EDS, including the potent opioid fentanyl. She had undergone numerous surgeries and addiction to the painkiller tramadol. However, it was only when she began using medical cannabis that her pain became manageable.
Despite the potential benefits, no states currently list EDS as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. However, several states do permit it as a treatment for chronic, severe, or intractable pain.
For the complete list, see our article: Medical Cannabis States and Their Qualifying Conditions.
THC vs. CBD for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
To date, most of the research on cannabis for chronic pain has focused on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is the compound responsible for cannabis’ intoxicating effects. It also provides a series of potential benefits, including muscle relaxation and pain relief.
THC induces these effects by binding with cell receptors known as CB1 receptors in the brain and nervous system. These receptors are designed to interact with chemicals called endocannabinoids that our bodies naturally produce.
THC has a similar molecular shape to these compounds. Therefore, it can influence their receptors and mimic their effects. In fact, THC binds with CB1 receptors even more fully than our endocannabinoids, which is why its effects are so potent.
In recent years, scientists have become more interested in a different cannabis compound, cannabidiol (CBD).
Unlike THC, it does not bind directly with CB1 receptors. Instead, it affects the body by increasing the activity of our endocannabinoids. Therefore, it does not cause intoxication or other THC side effects, such as dizziness or paranoia.
Furthermore, it is possible to extract CBD from industrial hemp as well as marijuana. This fact means that it is far more widely available than THC, even in many states without medical cannabis laws.
Like THC, CBD could possibly offer some relief to patients with pain due to EDS. A 2019 study followed 97 patients with chronic pain for eight weeks while supplementing their treatment regime with CBD. At the end of the study period, 53% of the participants had reduced or stopped their opioid medication. Moreover, 94% of the participants reported improved quality of life.
Therefore, CBD could provide a viable alternative to THC for patients without access to medical marijuana. It is also an option for those who simply wish to avoid intoxication or impairment.
Best Strains for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
When it comes to the best strains for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, there is no evidence that one is better than another. However, many people choose indica-dominant strains for chronic pain conditions due to their more body-focused effects.
Some popular examples include:
- Hindu Kush (100% indica, 20% THC)
- Northern Lights (90% indica, 18.5% THC)
- White Widow (60% indica, 22.5% THC)
The downside of these strains is that they tend to cause relaxation and drowsiness. Therefore, they are potentially more suitable for evening use. For those wishing to remain functional during the day, a high CBD or 1:1 CBD to THC strain might be a better option.
Some popular CBD strains include:
- Pennywise (70% indica, 13.5% CBD, 13.5% THC)
- Cannatonic (50% indica, 12% CBD, 7% THC)
- ACDC (50% indica, 20% CBD, 0.85%THC)
Once again, no research supports these being the best cannabis strains for Ehlers-Danlos. What works well for one person may be less effective for another, and it is often a matter of trial and error.
For those without access to legal, medical cannabis, high-quality, hemp-derived CBD products may be another option. Look for a brand that provides third-party lab reports and has plenty of positive reviews.
For more on choosing a CBD product, see our article: The Best CBD Products Currently on the Market.
Final Thoughts on Medical Cannabis for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
There is currently no research specifically on cannabis for EDS. However, there is evidence that both THC and CBD could help with one of its main symptoms, chronic pain.
Anyone wishing to try cannabis for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome should seek advice from a knowledgeable physician to ensure it is suitable for them.