Medical Cannabis for Mitochondrial Disease [Fully Explained]

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Medical cannabis is becoming more popular as legalization sweeps across the USA. Its proponents claim that it offers natural relief from a wide range of physical and psychological ailments.

The situation has left many people wondering how cannabis therapy can help them and their loved ones.

Today we will look at whether it can benefit patients with an exceptionally complex group of genetic conditions. Here’s all you need to know regarding cannabis for mitochondrial diseases.

What Are Mitochondrial Diseases?

Mitochondrial diseases are a group of genetic disorders that affect the mitochondria, essential components of our cells.

Mitochondria have the vital role of providing energy for all of our biological processes. They do this through chemical reactions that ultimately take energy out of food and store it in molecules called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Mitochondria have the vital role of providing energy for all of our biological processes.

Mitochondria rely on over 1000 different proteins to function correctly. If any of these proteins are defective, then the mitochondria cannot produce energy effectively. This is precisely what happens in mitochondrial diseases.

Due to a genetic mutation, one or more of the mitochondria’s proteins can become damaged. The resulting symptoms may vary from person to person.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe. However, several types of mitochondrial diseases follow a particular pattern.

Mitochondrial diseases tend to affect some tissues and organs more often than others. These include the following:

  • Brain
  • Muscles
  • Nerves
  • Heart
  • Liver
  • Kidneys
  • Eyes
  • Ears

What Causes Mitochondrial Disease?

Mitochondrial diseases are genetic disorders, meaning that they are inherited from one’s parents.

In some types of mitochondrial disease, both parents must carry a defective gene for the condition to manifest. However, in some cases, it can be inherited from the mother alone.

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Current Mitochondrial Disease Treatments

There is no cure for mitochondrial disease. Therefore, treatments aim to manage symptoms and improve patients’ quality of life as much as possible.

Some physicians also believe that certain supplements may help to improve the mitochondria’s ability to produce energy. These include Coenzyme Q10 and B vitamins, such as thiamine and riboflavin. Dietary changes may also help.

With effective treatment options lacking, many patients and their families are seeking additional help from natural remedies. So, is cannabis a good option for mitochondrial disease?

Unfortunately, the answer is not straightforward.

Can Cannabis Help Mitochondrial Disease?

Cannabis can help with such a wide range of problems because it interacts with one of the body’s in-built health systems. This system is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS). It comprises a collection of cell receptors and chemicals called endocannabinoids.

When these two components combine, they trigger a whole range of physiological reactions. They are present throughout the body and help to maintain a state of homeostasis (balance).


A lot of research exists on how the ECS can affect functions like mood and pain perception. However, less exists on how it influences energy production.

That said, some scientists believe that it plays a critical role. For example, a 2012 study for the journal Philosophical Transactions suggests that the ECS can dramatically impact mitochondrial function. Its authors discuss a range of different mechanisms by which this may occur.

One theory is that endocannabinoids impact the amount of calcium available in cells. This is where things get complicated because there are two primary medicinal compounds in marijuana, THC and CBD. Both of these chemicals can act on the ECS, albeit in very different ways.

THC or CBD for Mitochondrial Disease?

THC is probably the most famous chemical in cannabis. It is known for causing the intoxicating high that recreational users seek. It also has a range of medical benefits, including relieving pain and nausea, enhancing the appetite, and improving mood.

THC has a similar molecular shape to one of our natural endocannabinoids, anandamide. This allows it to bind with cannabinoid receptors throughout the body and brain. In fact, it binds with these receptors much more effectively than anandamide, which is why it has mind-altering effects.


CBD, on the other hand, does not bind with cannabinoid receptors directly. It enhances ECS activity by slowing the breakdown of endocannabinoids. It also interacts with a range of other systems, giving it potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects.

In terms of how THC and CBD affect mitochondrial disease, the evidence is somewhat conflicting.

In terms of how THC and CBD affect mitochondrial disease, the evidence is somewhat conflicting. One 2014 study in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism suggests that compounds that activate cannabinoid receptors could damage mitochondria.

This means that by stimulating these receptors, either directly or indirectly, THC and CBD could negatively affect mitochondrial function. However, the study later goes on to say that, under certain pathological conditions, ECS activation could benefit mitochondria.

Another 2015 study for BioMed Research International states that THC, specifically, can negatively impact mitochondria in the brain. The authors suggest that it could harm these crucial structures and increase the risk of strokes.

Finally, a more recent 2018 study in Frontiers in Pharmacology claims that CBD could increase the activity of mitochondrial complexes in rats. Its antioxidant and neuroprotective properties could also protect cells from damage.

Much more research is necessary before we can say for sure whether cannabis helps or hinders mitochondrial disease.

How to Get Medical Cannabis for Mitochondrial Disease

Mitochondrial disease does not appear on the list of medical marijuana qualifying conditions for many states. However, Georgia does list it as a valid reason to join its ‘Low THC Oil Registry.’ This program allows qualifying patients to possess cannabis oil containing no more than 5% THC. Patients anywhere else will struggle to get medical marijuana for mitochondrial disease.

If you live in a state with recreational cannabis, you could purchase the herb from a licensed dispensary, providing you are over 21. However, we strongly advise speaking to a knowledgeable physician before doing so.

CBD Oil for Epilepsy and Autism in Mitochondrial Disease

There is some evidence to support the use of CBD oil for conditions like epilepsy and autism, which can accompany mitochondrial disease. In fact, epilepsy is the only condition that the FDA has approved for treatment with a specific form of CBD, Epidiolex.

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A 2018 study in Frontiers in Pharmacology looked at the effect of CBD on autism. It found that its participants experienced improvements across several symptoms, including self-injury, hyperactivity, sleep, and anxiety.

However, some participants did experience worsening of symptoms, and the study was not large enough to draw any firm conclusions.

Medical Cannabis for Mitochondrial Diseases: Final Thoughts

Mitochondrial diseases are complex disorders and, as such, require complex treatment. It is currently unclear whether cannabis or CBD oil could play a role as far more research is necessary.

If you are considering using any cannabis-based medicine for mitochondrial disease, it is essential to consult your physician first. They will be able to offer you guidance according to your unique situation and symptoms.

Article Sources:
Genetic Disorders
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