Dyskinesia is defined as an “abnormality or impairment of voluntary movement.” It is not a disease in its own right. However, it is a symptom of several other conditions and can be a side effect of certain medications.
Dyskinesia can be very distressing for the sufferer and may seriously impact their overall quality of life. Therefore, effective treatments are highly sought after but are currently somewhat lacking.
Is it possible that cannabis, a medicinal herb with a checkered history, could help? We take a closer look.
What Is Dyskinesia?
Dyskinesia is a broad term used to describe a symptom that may arise due to another condition or some medications’ side effects. Dyskinesia should not be confused with dystonia. Dystonia is a similar symptom that may occur together with, or independently of, dyskinesia.
The word dystonia describes a specific muscle’s prolonged contraction, for example, the toes or the neck. Dyskinesia, on the other hand, describes involuntary movements that may be rapid or jerky in nature. Dystonia may cause painful spasms and stiffness, but dyskinesia is more likely to result in involuntary writhing or squirming movements.
Types of Dyskinesia
There are several different types of dyskinesia. Some are a result of medical conditions, while others are an unfortunate side effect of medication. Here are some of the most common types of dyskinesia and their causes.
Parkinson’s Disease Dyskinesia
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a widespread, degenerative disease. Estimates suggest it affects as many as 1–2% of people over the age of 60. Patients with PD have lower than average levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in their brains. Dopamine is most often associated with the reward response, but it also plays a vital role in motor control.
When dopamine levels fall, symptoms such as tremors, stiffness, slow movement, and postural instability can occur. These symptoms are generally treated with levodopa, a drug that is converted into dopamine in the brain.
Levodopa does a good job of relieving the symptoms of PD in most patients. However, it does not work as well as natural dopamine. In some cases, rather than allowing smooth, voluntary movement to be restored, levodopa can cause jerky, unnatural, and uncontrolled movements. This is known as levodopa-induced dyskinesia and it is one of the most common types of dyskinesia.
Tardive dyskinesia is also a side effect of medication, this time of neuroleptic (antipsychotic) drugs. These drugs are used to treat disorders such as psychosis and schizophrenia. Tardive dyskinesia is a common side effect of neuroleptic medications. According to one source, an estimated 16–50% of people who use neuroleptic drugs are affected.
This type of dyskinesia most often affects the facial muscles. The resulting symptoms include lip-smacking, grimacing, involuntary tongue or jaw movements, and excessive blinking. However, it can also affect the trunk and limbs’ muscles, causing symptoms such as writhing or finger tapping.
Cerebral Palsy Dyskinesia
Cerebral palsy (CP) is a disorder caused by damage to the developing brain. It is the most common cause of movement disorders in children. There are four different types of CP; spastic, ataxic, dyskinetic, and mixed.
People with dyskinetic CP suffer from uncontrolled movements. They may have difficulty with everyday activities such as walking, eating, and talking. People with dyskinetic CP may also suffer from jerky or writhing movements, which can vary from fast to slow.
Let’s take a look at exactly what causes dyskinesia and how cannabis could help.
Cannabis for Dyskinesia
The cannabinoids found in marijuana could help to relieve dyskinesia in several different ways. Over 100 phytocannabinoids are identified to date. However, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are by far the most widely researched.
THC is the most abundant phytocannabinoid in the cannabis plant and is responsible for its characteristic ‘high.’ THC could provide effective relief from pain and spasticity, improve mood, and aid sleep.
However, research into cannabis for dyskinesia is somewhat inconclusive. There are individual reports of dyskinetic symptoms being relieved by marijuana. However, clinical trials have failed to provide any substantial evidence one way or the other. Studies agree that cannabis is well-tolerated in patients with dyskinesia and does not cause any worsening of symptoms.
Although cannabis can cause some side effects, these are usually mild and short-lived. Therefore, it should be safe to try marijuana for dyskinesia, but you should always check with your physician first.
CBD for Dyskinesia
The current research on THC and cannabis for dyskinesia is inconclusive. In contrast, the cannabinoid CBD is showing great promise for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
PD is a progressive disease in which neurons in the brain are damaged over time by what is known as ‘oxidative stress.’ This is what causes dopaminergic cells and, therefore, dopamine levels to fall. CBD is known to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and neuroprotective effects. As a result, it could slow down the process and the overall course of the disease.
The above may not relieve the symptoms of dyskinesia directly. However, it could reduce the need for medications such as levodopa, where many problems start. Likewise, CBD has potential antipsychotic effects and could reduce the need for neuroleptic medicines, which can lead to tardive dyskinesia.
Unlike THC, CBD does not cause intoxicating effects and is generally considered safe and well-tolerated. It is also permitted in most American states providing that it is extracted from industrial hemp containing less than 0.3% THC.
Therefore, CBD has excellent potential as a treatment for conditions such as PD. It also has many other benefits for physical and mental health. However, one potential risk of CBD therapy is that it can affect how the body metabolizes other drugs. Therefore, if you take any prescribed or over-the-counter medication or have a pre-existing medical condition, you should consult your physician before taking CBD for the first time.
Can Cannabis Help Dyskinesia? Final Thoughts
Dyskinesia is a distressing condition for which there is a real lack of effective treatment options. Cannabis could offer relief through its interaction with the endocannabinoid system in the brain. However, scientific studies are yet to find hard evidence of this.
That said, medical marijuana does offer many benefits to patients suffering from the pain, tiredness, and mood disorders, which can often accompany dyskinesia. And one thing that studies do agree on is that cannabis should not make movement disorders any worse. Therefore, it is arguably worth trying.
Another great option, especially for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, is CBD. With its antioxidant and neuroprotective effects, it could slow these conditions’ progression and thus reduce the need for dyskinesia-inducing drugs such as levodopa.
If you suffer from dyskinesia or any other movement disorder, talk to your physician. They can determine whether medical marijuana or CBD therapy is an appropriate treatment for you. They can offer guidance on where to begin and inform you of any potential risks.