ALS, a degenerative disorder which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease due to the famous baseball athlete’s diagnosis, is a horrendously unpleasant condition that causes gradually worsening muscle control and strength, eventually reaching the point of being unable to speak or swallow.
This condition is infamous for being both unpleasant and for having no known cure.
Any and all treatments offered these days tend to be more about palliative care; helping deal with the pain and ease suffering while extending life expectancy as much as possible.
However, new research is always being published concerning ALS. In recent years, there has been a focus on using cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol, to try and treat ALS.
So, do cannabinoids actually help ALS? Can you use CBD oil to manage ALS?
What Is ALS?
To begin with, we need to understand exactly what ALS is.
ALS, properly known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, is a degenerative disease that causes the muscles all over the body to gradually wither away.
This not only makes it difficult to move your arms and legs but eventually affects every function within the body – though you might not realize it, even breathing and swallowing are controlled by muscles.
With no known cure, ALS eventually leads to death by respiratory failure, as the body becomes incapable of even breathing properly without aid.
Common ALS Treatment Options
Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of scientists everywhere, there are currently no useful medical treatments that work to either prevent or treat ALS. Instead, the only thing we can do is attempt to delay the onset of worsening symptoms, giving suffers a few extra years.
Support groups are very frequently recommended, working to improve the mental health of sufferers and to ensure that they can find other people going through the same thing they are as well.
With regard to common ALS medications, Riluzole, under the brand name Rilutek, has been the primary ALS treatment option since its approval in 1995. The drug works to slow the progression of ALS symptoms, all while prolonging the life expectancy of the sufferer after diagnosis.
The main problem is that these drugs are prohibitively expensive, at least in the USA, and that they also have a tendency to create extremely unpleasant side effects.
For example, patients commonly report excessive nausea, stomach pain, and general flu-like symptoms after regularly taking Riluzole, forcing them to make a choice between long-term health and short term pain.
However, there is one particular substance that has been found to have little to no side effects, all the while working well with other drugs to help improve life expectancy for ALS sufferers: Cannabis.
When discussing cannabis and such serious and life-ending conditions like ALS, there tends to be a focus on using it only as a palliative treatment, meaning that it only helps soothe pains and irritations, making the sufferer’s life a bit easier.
It seems as though CBD may be able to assist in making patients’ lives that bit easier.
What Is CBD & What Can It Do?
The idea that CBD is something that can actively help treat various medical conditions has been something that has taken many years to take hold.
Previously, people only considered CBD as an additional cannabinoid within marijuana, potentially as dangerous as the rest of cannabis.
Well, in actuality, CBD is a chemical compound that works with the body to produce a variety of useful effects, many of which can be used to treat all kinds of conditions.
It works because the body already has an endocannabinoid system (ECS), a health system designed to work with cannabinoids produced naturally. It is responsible for all sorts of different responses within the body, such as the release of helpful neurochemicals and even the body’s inflammation response.
Most conditions that can be treated using CBD are related to these bodily responses – a reduction in anxiety as a result of better dopamine release, or controlling the pain of arthritis by helping diminish the inflammation. These are just two very common uses of CBD.
However, doctors are now beginning to use CBD to treat more serious conditions, without the sole aim of trying to diminish the symptoms.
What Do the Studies Say?
Over the years, more and more studies have been conducted to try and show the efficacy of CBD as a treatment for ALS.
One study, conducted by Sabrina Giacoppo and Emanuela Mazzon for the Journal of Neural Regenerative Research, found that in numerous clinical trials, bioactive compounds such as CBD worked to help delay the disease progression of ALS, as well as improving survival times.
This study noticed a few problems, however; namely that the tests they looked at were all conducted on animals, rather than people.
To help counteract this, other studies, such as a clinical report studying co-medication with cannabidiol by Gerhard Nahler, discovered that it worked in human patients as well as animals, but only by pairing it with other medication.
This method, known as co-medication, works by pairing CBD with another conventionally used drug, as certain drugs seem to work together and produce an increased efficacy rate.
This can be observed in the treatment of epilepsy, whereby seizures have been noted to be massively reduced when patients took a mixture of CBD and the conventional epilepsy drug, Clobazam, as the rather famous study by Emilio Perucca for the Journal of Epilepsy Research noted.
Nahler discovered that, when ALS sufferers used both regular Riluzole, a commonly used ALS medication, combined with a daily dose of CBD, their dysphagia and muscle weakness slowed down dramatically.
While the condition itself wasn’t stopped, by combining the two medications patients were able to enjoy a higher quality of life and a reduction in the speed of the degradation of their muscles.
This discovery was also replicated in an additional study by Malfitano et al. for the Journal of Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. In this study, researchers found that patients performed better and had a reduction in spasticity when using a combination of regular ALS drugs and CBD.
So Is CBD Oil Only Useful as a Co-Medication?
All this might lead you to believe that the only use CBD oil has when trying to treat ALS is in bettering the treatment efficacy of other conventional drugs used to treat ALS.
However, while CBD oil can now be said to be a useful treatment option when combined with other drugs, the fact remains that you are still taking CBD oil, meaning that you still get to enjoy the various therapeutic benefits that taking only CBD oil would provide.
This is especially helpful for those suffering from ALS, as sufferers of the disease usually experience a variety of pains and mental difficulties in trying to deal with their condition.
CBD is not only useful as a combination medication but is also considered by some as an anti-inflammatory and potentially useful treatment for pain, as noted in many different studies, including one study published by Bruni et al. for Molecules.
This anti-inflammatory effect is incredibly helpful for ALS sufferers in reducing inflammation-related pain, as well as just generally making it easier to work through the day while dealing with such an unpleasant condition.
Furthermore, CBD oil can be used to help make falling asleep easier, as well as encouraging a healthier mindset through the release of beneficial neurochemicals – all of this combines into a thoroughly useful treatment option for ALS sufferers, as it not only helps extend their life but make their life better as well.
Considering CBD seems to be such a worthwhile option, you might be wondering why go through all the bother of using CBD oil at all? Why not just get some marijuana and smoke that instead?
Why Not Just Smoke Regular Marijuana?
While there are many people that smoke marijuana regularly to try and combat the onset of ALS symptoms, there are a few significant drawbacks that make taking CBD oil a preferable option.
For starters, the obvious issue of the high caused by THC can potentially be a problem for those with ALS. While most people find the high pleasant (depending on the strain, of course), ALS sufferers often experience reduced motility. When you combine this with the head rush and general sensation of THC, this can oftentimes lead to intense nausea.
Furthermore, marijuana is currently illegal in a variety of jurisdictions in the USA, making it all the more difficult for doctors to recommend it as a useful option to treat ALS.
Even in states where it is legal to obtain, it is still considered federally illegal, making it impossible for there to be a conventional drug on the market that is authorized by the FDA.
There is also a more practical issue with smoking marijuana – the ability to smoke it at all. As ALS develops, the ability to breathe independently can be impaired, making it very difficult to attempt to smoke marijuana. This is often one of the main reasons why CBD oil is preferable, as it is far easier to take for someone with reduced motility.
Final Verdict About CBD Oil for ALS
Although most people would have balked at the idea of using anything related to cannabis to try and treat ALS, or any other serious condition, things have changed, especially now that that CBD oil has been demonstrated in numerous different studies to be useful.
Not only does CBD oil provide effective co-medication treatment when combined with other drugs, helping to suppress symptoms and extend life expectancy, but it also provides a number of beneficial therapeutic effects just because of its base effects as a cannabinoid.
Although there is still plenty of research to be done, as well as eventual work by the federal government towards legalizing its use for treating ALS, CBD oil looks to be an effective treatment option for helping those with ALS.
There might still not be a viable treatment option in CBD, but in the very least it can help increase life expectancy and ease people’s suffering.