Rather than refer to a single condition, cerebral palsy (CP) relates to a group of medical issues that impact the brain and movement. It is a lifelong condition that is caused by a problem with the brain that occurs during development, often before birth. However, some children are affected by cerebral palsy because their brain is damaged during birth or soon after they are born.
Causes of the condition include:
- A serious head injury.
- The child’s mother catching an infection during pregnancy.
- The brain not getting enough oxygen for a short period during a difficult birth.
- Reduced blood and oxygen supply to the brain.
- Bleeding in the baby’s brain.
Cerebral palsy is the most common childhood motor disability and, according to the CDC, an estimated 1 in 323 American children have been identified with the condition. Overall, an estimated 764,000 people in the United States have at least one symptom of CP. At present, there is no cure for cerebral palsy, but there are a few interesting studies that suggest that CBD could potentially reduce the symptoms of the condition.
Types of Cerebral Palsy & Symptoms
There are four different types of CP. The condition is broken down into these types to outline how a patient’s brain damage impacts on their overall mobility. Also, each cerebral palsy type is categorized according to the type of movement issues and the parts of the body affected.
There are two terms you will need to be aware of to understand the symptoms: Hypotonia refers to low muscle tone, meaning that there is a lack of strength and firmness; Hypertonia refers to high muscle tone, which causes rigidity and spasmodic movement.
This is the most common form of cerebral palsy, affecting up to 80% of people living with the condition. It is caused by damage to the motor cortex in the brain, which is responsible for controlling voluntary movement. Symptoms include:
- Stiffness in one part of the body.
- Abnormal gait.
- Permanently tightened joints or muscles.
Athetoid Cerebral Palsy
This form of cerebral palsy involves uncontrolled movement. The cause is damage to the basal ganglia or cerebellum in the brain; the former regulates voluntary motor function and eye movements, while the cerebellum controls coordination and balance. Symptoms include:
- Varying muscle tone throughout the day.
- Difficulty sitting or walking.
- Involuntary movement in the torso, face, and limbs.
- Problems with feeding and talking.
Ataxic Cerebral Palsy
This is a relatively rare form of CP and is typically caused by damage to the cerebellum. Symptoms include:
- Problems with balance or coordination.
- Difficulty making quick movements.
- Difficulty controlling movements.
Mixed Cerebral Palsy
This is another form of CP and occurs when there is damage to more than one area of the brain. The most common mixed CP diagnosis is one of spastic and athetoid.
Traditional Treatments for Cerebral Palsy
Symptoms of cerebral palsy are not always clear immediately after a baby is born. It can take two or three years before an accurate diagnosis is made. Some warning signs can include:
- A child walking on his/her tip-toes.
- Uncontrolled and random movements.
- Weak legs and arms.
- The child seeming too floppy or stiff.
- Developmental milestone delays; examples include not walking by 18 months or sitting up by eight months.
- Learning disabilities, vision problems, or difficulties swallowing food.
CP affects each person differently, but here are some likely scenarios:
- The condition may limit a child’s independence and activities, even though they may end up living a relatively independent life.
- Although the original brain damage doesn’t get worse, CP places a lot of strain on the body, meaning that joint stiffness and other issues are likely.
- Sending children with CP to a special needs school may be necessary.
- Most CP sufferers live for decades, although the average life expectancy is below normal.
- Cerebral palsy sufferers face tough challenges every day and it can be difficult to cope. As a result, an above-average number of CP patients have depression compared to the rest of the population.
With no known cure, the best that any treatment can do is reduce the impact of symptoms and help the individual live a normal and independent life. Typical treatments include:
- Medication to treat muscle stiffness.
- Surgery to deal with growth or movement problems.
- Occupational therapy to help carry out everyday tasks.
- Speech therapy to improve communication.
- Physiotherapy to reduce problems with movement.
How Could CBD Help Cerebral Palsy?
While we will look at the most important study on the topic below, it is important to note that there is a lack of hard evidence that links CBD with an improvement in CP symptoms. However, researchers have come up with a few theories on how CBD could provide relief for cerebral palsy patients.
A 2012 clinical trial by Jody Corey-Bloom et al. involved giving 30 multiple sclerosis patients with treatment-resistant spasticity a placebo or smoked cannabis. Those who used cannabis experienced a reduction in spasticity compared to MS patients who consumed the placebo. There were also noticeable reductions in perceived pain.
Many people with CP suffer from subsequent seizure disorders. However, CBD is fast gaining a reputation for being able to reduce the number of seizures associated with conditions such as Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) and Dravet syndrome.
In June 2018, the FDA approved a drug named Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Epidiolex is a synthetic drug containing CBD.
Important Studies on the Impact of CBD on Cerebral Palsy
Cerebral palsy has a significant impact on the child and his or her family. While up to 10,000 babies are born with the condition annually, as many as 1,500 are not diagnosed until they go to school. Less than half of children with CP are unable to walk independently and parents can be desperate for a solution. At present, the total lifetime care costs to look after a child with cerebral palsy exceeds $1 million. Small wonder then that parents are keen to find out more about what CBD can do for their kids.
Luba Blumkin performed one of the most relevant studies into CBD’s effects on complex motor disorder with the aid of a cannabis supplier called Tikun Olam. Nineteen of the 25 patients studied had cerebral palsy. The 2017 study, which was conducted by the Wolfson Medical Center near Israel’s capital, Tel Aviv, analyzed the effect of CBD on 36 children (aged 1-17) with cerebral palsy. To date, 20 of the volunteers have finished the testing stage.
After analyzing the children for two months to ensure their conditions were stable, the team gave the kids cannabis oil three times a day via a feeding tube or orally.
Within four months, there was a noticeable improvement in their condition. Blumkin asserts that the biggest positive change was in motor function. Other benefits included less pain and an improvement in quality of life and sleep.
All of the participants in the study continued taking their existing medication along with the oil. Incidentally, one group was given oil which had a THC:CBD ratio of 1:6, while another group received oil with a 1:20 ratio. Bar-Lev Schleider said that both doses were effective.
The Wolfson Medical Center study was extremely important because, until that point, there was relatively little data on CBD’s effect on cerebral palsy. A survey by Adam Hirsh et al., published in the March 2012 edition of the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, found that cannabis provided the best relief for CP patients when compared to several other medications.
They reported that a “not-insignificant number of patients with CP are using this drug for pain management and are finding it to be at least as effective as other more standard treatments for pain.”
Final Thoughts on CBD & CP
Overall, there is a suggestion that cannabis could have medical efficacy for individuals with cerebral palsy. It could help with symptoms including spasticity, sleep disturbance, and pain. CBD is a non-intoxicating compound and is legal in almost every state. As it doesn’t get you high, medical researchers believe it is safe to give to children, although more studies are needed in the future.
Remember to consult your physician before using CBD for cerebral palsy or any other medical condition.
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