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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, is a relatively rare neurological disease that affects the functioning of motor nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. As these nerves degenerate, they stop sending impulses, so that muscles throughout the body begin to weaken and waste away. Currently, a limited number of medications are available to treat ALS, but recent research shows that cannabis may be able to relieve symptoms such as muscle spasticity and slow the progression of the disease.

What Is ALS?

ALS is often called Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the famous athlete who brought it into the public eye in 1939. Today, the most famous face of ALS was the noted physicist Stephen Hawking. Around 30,000 Americans are living with ALS, and around 5,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. In most cases, ALS has no known risk factors. It typically appears spontaneously in people between the ages of 20 and 70, although a small number of cases have a genetic component.

ALS affects nearly all kinds of muscle function, including eating, speaking, and even breathing. The primary symptom is muscle weakness. Neurons that send impulses from the brain to the muscles break down, so that muscles gradually lose the ability to respond to the brain’s commands for movement. 

Other symptoms that lead to a diagnosis include twitching and cramping of muscles, especially in hands and feet, fatigue, and tripping and falling, or dropping things. Some people have episodes of uncontrollable crying or laughing. Others may have slurred speech or a weak voice. In later stages, more severe symptoms appear, including difficulties with breathing and swallowing, and paralysis.

Although there is no cure, ALS can be managed with a variety of therapies aimed at preserving muscle function and slowing neurological damage. Medication options are limited, with just four drugs gaining FDA approval for the treatment of ALS. Research indicates that cannabis works with the body’s endocannabinoid system to provide significant relief for some symptoms – and even protect motor neurons themselves from damage.

How Does Cannabis Help ALS Patients?

The key to the benefits of cannabis for ALS lies in the body’s natural network of cannabinoid receptors, the endocannabinoid system. These receptors, named CB1 and CB2, respond to cannabinoid chemicals produced by the body itself, and also to the very similar ones found in the cannabis sativa plant. 

The brain and spinal cord are rich in endocannabinoid receptors, which play an important role in supporting signaling between the brain and the body’s various subsystems. Research reveals that cannabis compounds, especially CBD, can act on the endocannabinoid system to reduce inflammation and oxidation in cells, which can relieve muscle spasticity and slow the progression of ALS. 

Cannabis also has well-documented properties for relieving pain, promoting appetite, and relieving anxiety and depression. That means cannabis can be helpful for ALS patients who experience a loss of appetite, pain, and mood changes due to the disease. Although more research is needed to understand the connections between the endocannabinoid system and the development of ALS, cannabis appears able to relieve symptoms and slow the degeneration of motor neurons.

ALS Patients Qualify for Medical Marijuana Use in Utah

ALS is a qualifying condition for Medical Marijuana in Utah. To get your Medical Marijuana Card, you’ll need to meet with a medical provider who can certify your qualifying condition and enter your information into the state user database. For more information or a consultation, schedule an appointment with us today. 

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